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West Bromwich Albion
West Ham United
March 30, 2013
• 8:45 AM
• Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Referee: K. Friend
• Attendance: 43760
T. Bramble 27' (own goal)
United, on the other hand, are 18 points clear, at least until City's 15:00 game against Newcastle. The title looks to be in the bag - now they look to Chelsea in their FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday. Thanks for your company today - see you next time.
Routine enough, in the end, for United - it took a deflected goal but they have their seventh-straight win and sixth-consecutive clean sheet in the Premier League. Sunderland did not roll over but do not claim a share of the points and face a daunting end to the season.
FULL-TIME: Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United
90' + 7'
It's just not going for Van Persie. He has the chance to definitively end his goal drought at the death as Young turns Bramble to create a two-on-one, but the Dutchman hits his square pass straight at Mignolet when he had most of the goal to aim at. Good save, but you wouldn't expect him to miss that.
90' + 4'
United are well in control again now. Cleverley advances through the middle and opens up to shoot, but wisely decides against it and keeps possession by running to the corner.
90' + 2'
Evans leaves himself exposed by sliding into a tackle that leaves Graham to pick up the loose ball. The striker's pass, though, is absolutely dreadful and picked off by Cleverley, and that's a good chance to break wasted.
We'll have six minutes of added time due to the injury to De Gea.
United are perfectly happy to sit everyone besides Van Persie behind the ball and soak up the high passes and crosses that are being aimed into their penalty area.
Little glimmer of a chance for Sunderland, as a ball into the box is cleared to Sessegnon, but his shot is blocked and Wickham, despite picking up the loose ball, can't find enough space to get another effort away.
"We're having a party on derby day" is the chant from the United fans. That's a week on Monday at Old Trafford.
Final change for Sunderland, too, as Colback replaces Rose at left-back.
United use their final substitution to bring Cleverley on for Anderson. Somewhat surprisingly, Van Persie will complete the 90 minutes - perhaps Chicharito, a scorer of many goals against Chelsea, will play with Wayne Rooney on Monday night.
McClean, enduring a disappointing second season, looks to engineer enough space to whip a cross in but Valencia works diligently to dispossess him. United defending in numbers now, and they're closing this game out well.
Young swings in an excellent corner and Vidic can't quite get the contact he needs to divert it goalwards. His header flies wide.
Buttner has had one of those games where he's looked a very promising attacking left-back, and tests Mignolet with a right-footed shot that the goalkeeper palms wide. It might have been off-target anyway, but a decent effort nontheless.
Wickham comes on for Johnson and Larsson for Bardsley as Sunderland look to spark something late in the game, while Welbeck replaces Kagawa for United.
Yellow Card Phil Bardsley
Bardsley is lucky not to have walked there. He catches Buttner with a studs up, late, late sliding challenge but the referee allows play to continue and only shows the Sunderland defender a yellow card.
Johnson comes inside from the right and drills a low shot just wide of the post from 25 yards. Not a bad effort, but De Gea always had it covered.
United demonstrate their threat on the break as Anderson releases Buttner with an excellent pass. The left-back strides forward and crosses low, but it's just deflected out of the path of Kagawa.
Johnson swings a super ball in from the right, but Smalling clears with an even better header in his own six-yard box. United holding out.
Sessegnon gets himself one-on-one with Smalling on the left - but miscontrols the ball out for a goal kick. Not much has gone his way.
Sunderland are still having trouble unlocking the United defence, despite the pressure they have exerted over the past 10 minutes, and slowly United are getting back on the ball.
The Sunderland fans are unhappy that the play was restarted with a drop ball in the corner and that has fired them up a bit. Bardsley does well to knock the ball past Vidic and wins a corner off Evans, but Sessegnon can't connect properly with the ball into the box.
De Gea looks to be OK to continue. He seemed to bump heads with Vidic when he came to punch a ball. Vidic appears to be cut around his lip as well, but he too will carry on.
This is easily Sunderland's best spell of the match, with crosses coming into the box one after the other. Graham's delivery from the right is well defended by Evans ahead of Sessegnon, before a series of balls thrown into the mix ends with De Gea clashing with Vidic. Sunderland are frustrated, understandably, that the play was stopped but the goalkeeper does need treatment.
Johnson makes a good run down the right and tries to square the ball to Sessegnon, but it's cut out. It falls for Bardsley, who blasts over.
Yellow Card Robin van Persie
Van Persie is booked for challenging with his studs up for a high ball. He didn't make contact with Gardner's head, but the midfielder went down clutching it anyway.
Smalling has made a number of promising forays forward, but never seems to have much ahead of him. Valencia's very mixed form has continued this afternoon.
Matt Scott reports from the Stadium of Light: "Warm-ups all done, Nani is called to the bench, where Mike Phelan promptly tells him to put his tracksuit bottoms on and sit down. Poor lad."
This is pretty typical of Sunderland - Smalling charges forward from right-back and Rose makes a good tackle. That leaves a gap down the home side's left to exploit - but Rose switches the ball to the opposite side of the pitch and the attack slows down.
Van Persie tries to curl the free kick past Mignolet at the near post but Rose blocks the attempt with his head.
Yellow Card John O'Shea
Van Persie traps a poor O'Shea header before looking to step past the defender to the right of the penalty area. He's tripped, and O'Shea gets a booking.
N'Diaye has space to advance into in midfield but - this is a recording - can't see a pass and ends up running down a blind alley before clipping a shot from an impossible angle into the stands.
Nice flick-on by Graham, but with Sessegnon running to the right and Gardner left, it's directed through the middle and Evans sweeps up. United looked a little exposed there.
And we're back underway for the second half.
It's Nelson Mandela Day at the Stadium of Light and there's an asylum (that's the collective noun, I just looked it up) of Burundian drummers on the pitch providing the half-time entertainment. A step up from the kids' penalty shootout.
And that was pretty much as expected. United are in full control, don't look like conceding and have created a couple of openings, although they were admittedly a little fortunate in how they took the lead. Sunderland have not defended badly but are offering woefully little going forward.
HALF-TIME: Sunderland 0-1 Manchester United
45' + 1'
A nice little one-two between Van Persie and Carrick on the right results in a menacing volley from the former, but it dips just over the bar, and that's the half.
McClean is played into some space through the middle but, yet again, takes too long in moving the ball on and Carrick does well to track back and ease him out of possession.
Johnson stretches his legs on the left-hand side but runs out of time and space, to the annoyance of the home supporters. Hard to tell whether he's trying to do too much or just lacking help from his team-mates - probably a bit of both.
It's powerfully struck, but Mignolet has no trouble palming it over the bar for a corner. Young sends the ball in from the left and the goalkeeper comes and doesn't get it, but Smalling can't get any controlled contact on the ball and heads well wide.
Carrick steps up in midfield to rob McClean of possession and the winger goes on to foul Van Persie on the right corner of the box. Van Persie will take the free kick.
Young spots Van Persie's run across O'Shea but the striker's first touch takes him too wide to beat Mignolet, who comfortably saves his low shot.
Frustration starting to set in among supporters as Sunderland struggle to get the ball through midfield. There's a real lack of ideas among the home side's forward players.
Young and Kagawa link up nicely with two flicks to give Anderson a chance to advance into the box but he can't quite engineer the space to shoot. United in complete control.
The first bad news for United of the afternoon comes in the form of an apparent injury to Rafael. The right-back trots off to be replaced by Evans, so Smalling moves over.
Bardsley looks to reignite Sunderland's fire with a run through the middle but he shanks his shot miles high and wide into the stands. It'll be an uphill struggle for Martin O'Neill's team from here.
Replays show it's almost definitely a Bramble own goal. Van Persie might have even been trying to cross the ball - whatever the initial effort was, it wasn't on target until the defender's touch.
Own Goal Titus Bramble
GOAL! Van Persie thinks he's ended his goal drought, but that may be credited as a Bramble own goal. The Dutchman receives the ball on the left and pushes Bardsley back into his own box before whipping a left-footed shot across goal - it looks to be heading wide before Bramble sticks out a leg to deflect it in.
Yellow Card Alfred N'diaye
N'Diaye earns the first yellow card of the match for sliding in late on Valencia after the Ecuadorian had nudged the ball past him.
United bossing it in the possession stakes, with 69 per cent of the ball theirs so far. They're not creating too much though at the minute.
Kagawa slides a pass into Van Persie in the box to the right of goal but Bramble follows the striker well and sticks a toe in to poke the ball away. Good defending.
We've hit a bit of a lull in the last few minutes. Injured absentees Cattermole and Fletcher are chatting happily in the stands.
Young gets into space on the left once more but, again, his cross is quite poor - it should be right down the throat of Mignolet but the goalkeeper seems to misjudge it and punches behind for a corner, which comes to nothing.
Gardner and Rafael collide on the edge of the box as they challenge for a bouncing ball, and the Sunderland fans cry foul. Didn't seem to be much in it.
Kagawa and Anderson are seeing plenty of the ball and the latter tries a neat through ball to Buttner, who makes a cutting run into the penalty area from the left to receive it. Mignolet reacts quickly again, though, and dives on it just before the Dutchman can get a touch.
Big chance for Buttner! The left-back drives into the box and when he tries to slip a through ball to his left, it bounces off Bardsley and back into this path. He needs one touch too many before poking a shot towards goal, though, and Mignolet comes off his line to block.
Sunderland are pressing United very aggressively. It's unsettled the visitors to some extent, but they are finding gaps behind in the Black Cats' half.
Matt Scott reports from the Stadium of Light: "Manchester United haven't had it all their own way in the first six or so minutes and Sir Alex Ferguson has wandered ominously from the bench for the first time. Those missing United fans have turned up, having been presumably preoccupied by pints and pies, and are now making an almighty racket."
Young swings in a cross to the back post but it's far too long and flies out for a goal kick.
It's cleared, and United counterattack. Kagawa switches the ball left to Young and Bardsley quite clearly handballs as the winger lines up a cross. Free kick just outside the Sunderland box to the left of goal.
This is a decent response from Sunderland, who have the home fans fully behind them today. McClean wins a corner off Rafael on the left.
Shaky moment for De Gea, who hacks a back pass straight to Graham. His first touch is abysmal, though, and rolls to Sessegnon in an offside position.
United immediately on the front foot, and Carrick and Anderson move the ball left to Young. He picks out Kagawa just inside the box who spins Bramble before shooting weakly at Mignolet - the Japanese had more space than he thought there.
Vidic seems to have a bit of a problem. He received the ball just inside his own half and simply lumped it into the stands before clutching his back. He's continuing for now, but we'll keep an eye on that.
We're underway at the Stadium of Light.
Matt Scott reports from the Stadium of Light: "The teams are on their way out at the Stadium of Light and it's struck me how few Manchester United fans are here today. Despite being given the full allocation away to me left, the section is barely half full with just a few minutes to kick-off."
Sir Alex Ferguson is claiming today's match, and the league, is the priority over Monday's FA Cup replay against Chelsea. "Today’s an important game for us, there’s no doubt about that," he told Sky Sports. "The priority is to win the league and hopefully we can do that and today’s a big game in that respect."
They may have stuttered in the cup competitions, but United have been at their ruthless best in the top flight. Their last six has delivered six wins and five clean sheets - and that's despite Robin van Persie having scored only one goal in those matches.
Some form for you: Sunderland have drawn two and lost four of a last six that included games against Norwich, QPR, Fulham and Reading. Coming up after this match? Chelsea, a derby against Newcastle and then Everton. Ouch.
Jonny Evans says the 15-point gap between United and Manchester City will not cause the league leaders to take their foot off the pedal. "I don’t think it’s affected us one bit," he told Sky Sports. "We won’t relax until we have won the league and I think that’s something the manager’s made sure of – and I think the players as well, we want to make sure that we win the league and if we do win it, we’ll win it as soon as possible."
United face Chelsea in the FA Cup on Monday so Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Tom Cleverley, Patrice Evra, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are all rested. Robin van Persie starts, though, as do Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic.
Sunderland are without top scorer Steven Fletcher and captain Lee Cattermole for the rest of the season so Stephane Sessegnon supports Danny Graham in attack and Alfred N'Diaye comes into central midfield, where Craig Gardner is preferred over Sebastian Larsson.
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Buttner; Valencia, Carrick, Anderson, Young; Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs: Evra, Evans, Nani, Welbeck, Cleverley, Powell, Lindegaard.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea, Bramble, Rose; Johnson, N'Diaye, Gardner, McClean; Sessegnon; Graham. Subs: Larsson, Wickham, Kilgallon, Colback, Mangane, Mandron, Westwood.
We'll start with the teams...
Good afternoon! Thanks for joining us for what most seem to be anticipating to be the most predictable Manchester United victory of the season so far - can Sunderland upset the odds and show some signs of life, or will they be further dragged into the relegation battle? Let's find out. Kick-off at the Stadium of Light is at 12.45 GMT.
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