[Premier League] Manchester United 0-1 Sunderland
Sunderland: Sebastian Larsson (30)
Ryan Giggs suffered his first defeat as Manchester United interim manager on Saturday as Sebastian Larsson's first half goal helped Sunderland clinch a 1-0 win that all-but secures their Premier League survival.
The Reds were neat and tidy in the opening exchanges, though the game was completely lacking in intensity and neither side was able to fashion a meaningful chance until John O’Shea deflected Michael Carrick’s cross just inches past the far post in the 18th minute. Moments later, Nani hooked a right-footed shot over the bar from 15 yards before Patrice Evra’s close-range header was comfortably saved by Vito Mannone.
The deadlock was broken on the half hour mark as Seb Larsson ghosted into the area to volley Connor Wickham’s cross past David De Gea, sending Sunderland’s travelling fans into raptures. While that concession forced United to up the tempo, the home side did little to trouble ex-Reds John O’Shea and Wes Brown before half-time.
Neither manager made changes at the break, though United began the second half with much more urgency and almost scored when Nemanja Vidic’s header flew just wide of the post. Adnan Januzaj then replaced Nani and the Belgian’s youthful enthusiasm appeared to energise his team-mates, before Robin van Persie made his return from injury alongside Danny Welbeck on 66 minutes.
In spite of such positive changes, Sunderland held firm and almost doubled their lead when substitute Emanuele Giaccherini and Fabio Borini hit the woodwork in the latter stages. While United huffed and puffed, going close through Welbeck and Hernandez, the Reds were unable to prevent a seventh home defeat of the league season.
The Match: Black Cats snatch it
The Match: The Reds started slowly and with nothing except Europa League qualification to play for, the match lacked intensity in the opening exchanges. In contrast, Sunderland played with their Barclays Premier League survival at stake and, as a result, performed as if their very lives were threatened, chasing every ball and limiting United to just a handful of half-chances. While this match was by no means a classic, Gus Poyet will feel proud of his players for securing a hard-fought away win at Old Trafford.
The Goals: After a drab opening, Sunderland eventually broke the deadlock in the 30th minute as Seb Larsson latched onto a cross from Connor Wickham, the Premier League Player of the Month, to volley into the bottom corner of David De Gea's goal. The Spanish goalkeeper looked dejected, although he could have done little to have stopped the Swede’s perfectly executed finish.
Star Man: As the scoreline suggests, United’s forwards struggled to make an impact and the Reds lacked any real attacking threat in the final third – perhaps until substitute Danny Welbeck was introduced to the action, with his pace and urgency occasionally causing problems for the Sunderland defence. Phil Jones and Patrice Evra had decent games on the flanks, while Nemanja Vidic was typically powerful in the air, though this was definitely an afternoon to forgot for all concerned.
Sub-plot: Robin van Persie made his long-awaited return from injury, replacing Juan Mata to register his first appearance since scoring a hat-trick against Olympiacos on 19 March. While the Dutchman could do little to overturn the deficit, making just a handful of meaningful touches, he will benefit from the game time and is surely in contention to start against Hull City on Tuesday.
Statistics: United controlled 63 per cent of the possession and registered 17 shots, which was considerably more than Sunderland's eight efforts at goal. Unfortunately, the Reds only hit the target on two occasions, which is a statistic that tells the story of the game in itself.
Opposition: The Black Cats were organised at the back and quietly ambitious up front, producing a gritty performance that all-but guarantees their status as a top-flight club for next season - they are now three points clear of rivals Norwich with just one game to play. As such, manager Gus Poyet was delighted by his team’s effort and praised their admirable commitment after the match.
Quote/unquote: “We’re obviously disappointed. After the great performance we gave last week, it was a bit flat today. The preparations were the same as last week, the lads were training well and I changed things around a bit. That concentration and quality just weren’t there today, but credit to Sunderland who are on a good run. When teams are fighting for their lives you need to be at your best, and today we weren’t.” - Ryan Giggs
In the Stands: In contrast to last weekend’s match with Norwich, the first of Giggs’ reign as interim manager, Old Trafford was relatively subdued and the United fans struggled to find their voice until the second half when the Reds were chasing an equaliser. Unfortunately, the much-needed goal never came, allowing Sunderland’s travelling fans to have the final word at Old Trafford with “We are staying up” ringing out gleefully.