Manchester United 2–2 Sunderland
Last season this fixture saw Sunderland park the proverbial bus in front of the Stretford End. The Black Cats frustrated United for 90 long minutes before Nemanja Vidic popped up to secure a vital win for the home side.
However, the prolific form of Darren Bent under the stewardship of Steve Bruce ensured that Sunderland would employ a more attacking attitude this time round. Indeed the duo of Bent and Jones have proved more than fruitful this season and invariably caused Manchester United’s defence a host of problems.
Surprisingly, the in-form Ryan Giggs was dropped to the bench alongside the Red Devils’ mid-week match winner Michael Carrick. In came Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher. But despite Ferguson freshening up his starting line-up, the home side were largely second best to Sunderland in the first half.
The visitors enjoyed an extended spell of dominance. Two well-worked set pieces put the Old Trafford rear guard under pressure as the under-fire Ben Foster looked in an unconfident mood between the sticks.
Less than seven minutes into the game, Steve Bruce’s men took a deserved lead through a spectacular Bent effort. The striker’s immaculate first touch allowed him to pivot on to his right and escape the attentions of John O’Shea.
He unleashed a low drive which evaded the left palm of Foster to put the Black Cats into the lead against the champions.
Bent, Kenwyne Jones, and Steed Malbranque all looked in menacing mood. The French midfielder frequently broke from midfield, launching blitzes on the United half.
Sunderland didn’t sit back on their lead. A dangerous Andy Reid cross was nodded down by Bent into the path of Jones. However the Trinidad and Tobago striker failed to capitalise on the chance.
It was a frustrating first half for United. Despite the home side enjoying the majority of possession, the likes of Rooney, Nani, and Welbeck were unable to find the final deft ball to cut open a resolute Sunderland defence.
A presumably rousing Fergie team talk saw a rejuvenated United march out in the second half. The renewed sense of vigour saw the home side soon muster up a good opening.
Persistence from Nani saw him intercept the ball from Bardsley. The Portuguese player toe-poked an effort goal wards which was saved by Craig Gordon.
The ball fell into the path of the onrushing Rooney. However his effort was rapidly closed down by Gordon’s defence, with Rooney unable to avail with the keeper out of position.
United maintained the pressure on the away side. In the 51st minute they had their long awaited equalizer.
Nani and Rooney combined again to force Gordon into another save. Unfortunately for the keeper his save fell into the path of John O’Shea. The Irishman’s cross was met by a speculative overhead kick from Dimitar Berbatov that found the back of the net.
Parity in the match lasted less than ten minutes. Reid’s floated cross was met by the leaping Jones and the giant striker out-jumped and outmuscled the desperate Foster. The ball promptly trickled into the gaping net.
With the score finely balanced at 2-1 in Sunderland’s favour, Bruce promptly ordered his side to operate more defensively with only sparse counter attacks relieving United pressure.
It seemed the Black Cats would hold out for a famous victory. They restricted Rooney and company to long-range efforts that floated harmlessly wide.
However the turning point of the match came when Kieran Richardson was carelessly sent off with ten minutes remaining. The former United star kicked away the ball in frustration and subsequently received a second yellow card.
Ferguson’s men redoubled their efforts with the one man advantage. But Ferdinand and Turner remained strong at the heart of the Sunderland defence.
The game seemed to be trickling away from United’s grasp when their relentless pressure finally paid off in the second minute of added time.
Sunderland failed to clear their lines adequately and the loose ball fell to Patrice Evra whose drilled effort deflected off Ferdinand and into the net past the motionless Gordon. Old Trafford erupted as United’s last-gasp equaliser rescued a point for Ferguson.
There would be no repeat of the Manchester derby as the away side desperately hung on for a hard fought point.