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Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United-Nani’s Strike Ensures Title Goes Down To The Wire

By Dan Salisbury-Jones.After 90 minutes of experiencing life as Liverpool supporters, made even worse by watching them limp to a 2-0 defeat to the league leaders Chelsea, United’s players and fans turned their attention back to the job at hand and a tricky looking trip to the Stadium of Light.

nani strike

Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United

By Dan Salisbury-Jones.

After 90 minutes of experiencing life as Liverpool supporters, made even worse by watching them limp to a 2-0 defeat to the league leaders Chelsea, United’s players and fans turned their attention back to the job at hand and a tricky looking trip to the Stadium of Light.

Chelsea’s goal difference, bolstered by scoring 7 three times in victories this season, meant anything less than a win for United against Steve Bruce’s Sunderland would hand the title back to Stamford Bridge.

The reds, playing in black shirts, white shorts and socks set their stall out with the most attack minded starting line up of the season so far reflecting the task ahead.

At 4pm, Sunderland got the game underway attacking the end where the United fans where situated (a smaller number than in past seasons due to their insistence on standing up). It didn’t seem to diminish the atmosphere though, credit has to be given to the Mackem faithful who sang throughout despite having nothing to play for, after securing their Premier League status 2 weeks ago.

The high pressure atmosphere was matched by Sunderland’s players who pressed every United touch impressively in the opening stages. In the 4th minute though, Goalkeeper Craig Gordon was called into action after a dinked ball in from the right wing by Dimitar Berbatov found the feet of strike partner Wayne Rooney, his strike was parried away by the Scotsman to his right hand side where Ryan Giggs was rushing in to pounce, ex red Phil Bardsley threw himself in front of his shot and Sunderland eventually cleared.

Both sides were clearly up for this, United looked determined to hold on to their Champions tag for another game at least, Sunderland certainly were not making it easy though with a fully committed attitude pressing the ball hard.

Steed Malbranque could have been booked after 11 minutes after a rather rash challenge on Nani, it highlighted how United would have to work for their victory in a full blooded encounter.

Sunderland created their first chance 2 minutes later, with a right footed out swinging corner from Jordan Henderson , met at the near post by John Mensah but the big defender put his header over that near post, Berbatov would have wanted to stick closer to him.

On the quarter of an hour mark, Jonny Evans conceded a free kick after a late challenge on ex red Frazier Campbell. The free kick was lofted into the area from 30 yards out to the left of the area, Cana flicked the ball on with his head but his effort saw the ball go just over the far post.

Mensah’s World Cup dreams could have been dealt a blow due to yet another injury for the Ghanian defender just 5 minutes after his headed chance a few minutes earlier. He was a shock inclusion anyway with Bruce stating last month he may need to sit out for up to a year to sort his injury issues out. He was replaced by Matthew Kilgallon.

The imperious Ryan Giggs showed his class four minutes later, after a good run from Patrice Evra over the half way line and then a pass to feed the Welshman, the Sunderland defenders backed off as Giggs moved towards their area before switching to his left, striking a beautiful shot that clipped the angle of the right post.

Sunderland replied to Giggs’ striking of the woodwork, this time United defenders were backing off and Steed Malbranque found himself in space 30 yards out, his powerful right footed strike was heading straight into the top left corner of the net before Edwin Van Der Sar pulled off his seemingly weekly spectacular save, tipping it over the bar.

In the 28th minute, United took the lead after much possession led to Giggs feeding Berbatov just inside the area, who chipped the ball up to Rooney’s head just a couple of yards ahead of him, the England striker headed it down to the right and to Darren Fletcher who flicked the ball on to the waiting Nani, who fired a low shot across Craig Gordon into the bottom left corner of the net, the goal reflected the confidence the Portuguese international has built in the title run in and may well make a mark on the World Cup if he keeps it up.

United asserted themselves after taking the lead, 2 minutes after the goal Ryan Giggs almost fed United’s 2nd top goal scorer, Own Goal. Sunderland man, Turner though managed to divert the captain’s cross the right side of the post from a Sunderland perspective.

In the 37th minute, Steve Bruce was forced into another change after David Meyler was the next Sunderland casualty.  His collision with Nani resulted in the Irish midfielder being taken off on a stretcher, Lee Catermole replaced him.

Nemanja Vidic earned himself a yellow card after 41 minutes when he sarcastically clapped a decision against him by referee Steve Bennett.

There was little other incident at the end of the first half with United dominant, without further testing Craig Gordon.

Half Time

United’s dictation of the play continued into the second half but with even more purpose attacking their section of as usual noisy supporters.

In the 49th minute, United had their first clear cut opportunity of the second half, a slip by yet another ex red in Kieran Richardson allowed the ball to run through to Darren Fletcher who’s back heel had Nani bearing down on goal, only for Craig Gordon to spread himself well and allowing his defenders to scramble it away.

Rooney and Berbatov were linking up on 52 minutes, as United’s number 10 made his way toward the middle of the box from the left before crossing all the way through to the far post, where Berbatov looked destined to score, his stretched effort though couldn’t quite divert the ball into the net.

Perhaps that miss frustrated United’s talisman as 2 minutes later he lost the ball under pressure to Lorik Cana, Rooney then petulantly flicked out at him becoming the second United player in Mr Bennett’s book.

Sunderland had a penalty claim turned down after 55 minutes, Phil Bardsley was in a foot race with Ryan Giggs behind him to reach the ball in the right hand side of the area, the right back then fell without seemingly being touched by Giggs, however it did seem bizarre why he would go down without any contact in such a great position. Depsite Bardsley’s protestations the referee didn’t see any either and so play went on.

It was not to be Berbatov’s afternoon from a finishing perspective, Ryan Giggs was next to set up a chance for the Bulgarian, when he dug out a cross from the left of the area, finding the striker 4 yards from goal, his header though hit a Sunderland defender jumping with him and so deflected over the bar.

The positive though from a United perspective is that Berbatov is getting these chances, due in no small part it seems to playing with Wayne Rooney. It looked like it suited the Bulgarian as both strikers like to drop deep but took it in turns to, meaning Berbatov was in a better position more often than in recent weeks when Rooney dropped back.

The fact remained though that the score line was still just 1-0, precarious at the best of times but especially when 40,000 fans sense their team could get an equaliser, their noise was being increased as they began to believe it might just be their day, or rather Chelsea’s.

Their team responded with a couple of corners, given the size of some of the Sunderland players it was testament to United’s defence how well they dealt with them, Van Der Sar had still not really been tested since Malbranque’s long range effort.

Dimitar Berbatov’s chase for a goal was over in the 71st minute when he was replaced by Michael Carrick as Sir Alex Ferguson looked to reassert United’s dominance of possession.

Steve Bruce was left with just the 1 throw of the dice after enforced changes in the first half, he decided though to bring on Trinidadian striker Kenwyn Jones for midfielder Henderson, expressing Sunderland’s ambition.

He was involved instantly in a brief spell of sustained pressure which resulted in a long range pile driver from Lee Catermole, the midfielder’s effort though never troubled Van Der Sar’s goal.

The visitors seemed destined to double their lead in the 78th minute with players in black queuing up to score, eventually the ball came to Michael Carrick who steadied to shoot from just inside the area, he took his time before his shot was blocked off the line. So, Still United led by just that insecure 1 goal.

Steed Malbranque did nothing to endear himself to United fans yesterday, after his reckless challenge in the first half was followed up in the 81st minute when he was beat to the ball by Jonny Evans, Malbranque left his foot in the tackle, landing his studs on the Northern Irishman’s ankle. The ex Tottenham man escaped with just a booking, it could easily have been more.

A minute later there was an acrobatic over head kick from Frazier Campbell inside the area which went well wide, this was a sign though of how Sunderland were struggling to create clear cut chances, especially after the addition of Michael Carrick meant they were once again struggling to get hold of the ball.

With just 3 minutes remaining, Rio Ferdinand made a welcome return to first team action replacing Darren Fletcher.

A minute into the 3 added for injury time, Sunderland earned themselves a corner which was met at the far post by the head of Frazier Campbell but never troubled the goal.

United were to hold on to a comfortable victory with a score line flattering the home side. It was smiles all round for reds as they also welcomed back Owen Hargreaves for the final minute, who replaced the excellent Nani. Hargreaves has been out since September 2008 with a knee problem, it looks promising that he will be ready for pre season and would basically be a new signing for Sir Alex because of the length of his absence.

With better finishing in the final third, United could have inflicted a heavy defeat to Steve Bruce’s side yesterday, instead though it was at times a little nerve racking. Giggs was superb as ever, as was Rooney and the defence looked solid as usual with Paul Scholes digging in to help out in his recently discovered role as a holding midfielder. Dimitar Berbatov deserves a mention also, despite his lack of potency in front of goal, his link up play was at times superb and playing with Rooney seems to bring the best out of him.

Nani continued his great form and would be a deserving man of the match for his contribution yesterday.

So the title race goes to the final day, can Wigan do United a favour? Will there be a strange atmosphere at Old Trafford as it’s out of the reds hands? Do you agree or disagree (it’s fine honest) with how I have described the performance? Here at football-talk we love to hear your views, so get involved in the title race and our community in the comments box below!



  1. Jason Brindley

    May 3, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    great review of the United Sunderland game, couldnt put it any better myself. Come On Wigan!

  2. TomPier

    May 4, 2010 at 6:39 am

    great post as usual!

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