Former Red Devils defender unfortunate to see Danny Welbeck's header deflect off of him into the visitors' net as the underwhelming defending champion edges to victory.
Former Manchester United defender Wes Brown was the victim of an unfortunate deflection as his own goal saw the Red Devils take all three points despite an ordinary performance against Steve Bruce's Sunderland.
With Sir Alex Ferguson celebrating 25 years in charge at Old Trafford the defending champion did not offer many fireworks on this Bonfire Night but did enough to ensure it keeps itself on the tails of title rival Manchester City.
Before the game it was announced that the North Stand at the Theater of Dreams would be renamed after Ferguson while a statue of the legendary manager will also be unveiled in the near future.
Unfortunately for the Scottish coach, his side's performance did not leave him with a wide smile as, while Sunderland rarely looked threatening in attack, its organized defensive setup frustrated the home side for much of this one.
Wayne Rooney continued in his new central midfield role for United as Ferguson made three changes to the side that beat Everton 1-0 last weekend. David De Gea was rested and replaced by Anders Lindegaard in goal while Jonny Evans’ patchy form cost him a spot in the starting XI as Rio Ferdinand returned. Nani stepped in for the injured Tom Cleverley in midfield, with Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez continuing in attack.
Even in the absence of John O’Shea, who missed out through injury, Steve Bruce named three former United players in his team. Phil Bardsley replaced O’Shea at fullback while Brown and Kieran Richardson also started at the back.
Keiran Westwood replaced the injured Simon Mignolet in goal and Lee Cattermole returned to the midfield in the absence of David Vaughan.
As expected, United controlled possession from the start but was effectively stifled by the visiting through the opening half hour of play. It was Sunderland, with its organized defending and quick and effective transition to attack through the likes of Bendtner, Sebastian Larsson and Stephane Sessegnon, which created the first two chances of the match, Larsson volleying into the side netting from inside the box before Bendtner tested Lindegaard from distance.
Westwood was called into action for the first time after 30 minutes when he comfortably held Rooney’s long range effort. Rooney’s deployment at the tip of what sometimes seemed to resemble a midfield diamond was playing into the visitors’ game plan nicely, with Sunderland’s fluid front four swarming the space between the United defense and midfield in the center of the park while Cattermole and Colback sat in deeper positions.
United finally began to find some penetration towards the end of the half as Hernandez was slipped through on goal only to be eased off the ball by Larsson, with the Mexican’s appeals for a penalty ignored by referee Lee Mason.
Sunderland’s forays into the United half had been few and far between but Bruce will have been more than satisfied with how his side had contained the threat of those in red shirts until, as it so often has done during Ferguson’s 25 years in charge, United grabbed the opening goal out of very little. After Nani’s shot had been saved by Westwood the Portuguese winger fizzed in a corner that was met by Welbeck, whose glancing header found its way in off the unfortunate Brown.
The second frame began in much the same fashion, with United remaining largely untroubled in defense, but as time ticked down on Sunderland’s quest for an equalizer things began to open up. Nani was having more luck as he looked for space to run into and hit a 25-yard shot narrowly over the crossbar before once again failing to keep his effort down after a nice exchange with Hernandez.
Sunderland had no choice but to give up more space as it looked to send numbers forward for a goal but the club struggled to get the ball off United and found itself chasing shadows for large periods. That adversely affected the team when it did get possession, with Bendtner and substitute Ji Dong-Won lacking support in the final third.
The Black Cats thought they had received a dramatic slice of good fortune with around 20 minutes to play when referee Mason blew for a handball with several arms raised in the United penalty area, but after consulting with his linesman the official indicated a free kick to home side. Replays showed the decision to be correct, with Dong-Won the offender.
United had its best two chances of the match minutes later and only two stunning saves from Westwood prevented the club from putting the game to bed. First Rooney’s low shot from inside the box was superbly turned away before the Irishman stopped Evra’s follow up from point blank range.
Sunderland came equally close to tying the score with 10 minutes remaining. Larsson broke down the right and slid a low cross across the six-yard box that evaded everyone, including the outstretched leg of Bendtner, who couldn’t have been more than a matter of inches away from poking the delivery beyond Lindegaard.
The goal would not come, though, as a far from vintage United did enough to keep itself in second place and keep the pressure on Roberto Mancini's City.