Manchester United hosted Sunderland in a game they needed to win on Saturday. Louis van Gaal was forced to make as many as 5 changes to the side that lost to Swansea last weekend owing to injuries. Shaw, McNair, van Persie, Jones and Fellaini made way for Young, Valencia, Evans, Smalling and Falcao. Sunderland, meanwhile, made three changes to the side which drew 0-0 against West Brom. Patrick van Aanholt, Jordi Gomez and Connor Wickham replaced Santiago Vergini, Ricardo Alvarez and Danny Graham.
The game started with United on the ascendancy as the home side pushed the visitors back into their own half. Sunderland’s defense however held their nerves and their organisation and United’s star studded attacking lineup found it difficult to unlock the defensive line. In fact, surprisingly, it was David de Gea who was required to make the first save of the game when Wickham broke through in the 6th minute and took his shot on goal. Angel di Maria put in a precise cross into the box for Wayne Rooney a few minutes later but the chance went abegging as the skipper was unable to make anything of it and Ashley Young fired the rebound wide. Sunderland still preferred to play in their own half, choosing to hold defensive order rather than attack. The best chance of the half however probably fell to Adam Johnson in the 20th minute when he found himself in space with the ball at his feet at the edge of United’s box but the English international took too long to pull the trigger and the chance was long gone by then. Sunderland had a close call of their own in the 25th minute when Ashley Young thundered a left footed shot at the back post off a Valencia cross only to see ex colleague John O’Shea deflect the ball onto the crossbar and out to safety. As the half time whistle neared, United mounted increasing pressure and put Pantilimon’s goal under siege but to no avail and the half ended goalless.
United came back out with LvG having hooked di Maria in favour of Januzaj, purportedly due to an injury to the former. Just after the hour mark things came to a head when a cross found Falcao in the box. The Colombian turned in the box before he was wrestled to the ground by John O’Shea. The referee correctly awarded the penalty but then mistakenly sent off Wes Brown (who got involved after Falcao was already going down) instead of O’Shea. Wayne Rooney dutifully converted from the spot to put the home side ahead. Immediately after, van Gaal substituted Fellaini in for Falcao looking to take advantage of the big Belgian’s physicality and heading ability. With pressure building, Sunderland began struggling as they tired out. Poyet made his first substitution with ten minutes on the clock sending on Steven Fletcher for Johnson. Less than five minutes later, Wayne Rooney latched onto a rebound that resulted from a game of goalmouth pinball and doubled United’s lead with a low shot into the net. As if on cue, van Gaal substituted Rooney bringing on Mata in his place to see out the remaining 5 minutes plus stoppage time for the home side. In the second minute of stoppage time, Herrera thought he had made it three goals for his side when a Valencia shot rebounded off Pantilimon and then Herrera and into the back of the net but the United midfielder was correctly adjudged offside by the linesman and the goal disallowed.
After starting slowly, United held possession well and were hardly troubled by the Black Cats especially in the second half. Adnan Januzaj was clearly the star of the show as he replaced di Maria at half time and injected a much needed directness to United’s attacks as he ran at the defenders regularly. It may have been a scrappy win in the end but it is still worth 3 points and undoubtedly Louis van Gaal and his side will take them however they come.