Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland: Wes Brown own goal gifts three points on Sir Alex Ferguson's 25th anniversary
Former Red Devils defender was unfortunate to see Danny Welbeck's header deflect off of him into the visitors' net as the underwhelming defending champions edge to victory
By Oliver Platt
With Sir Alex Ferguson celebrating 25 years in charge at Old Trafford, the defending champions did not offer many fireworks on this Bonfire Night, but did enough to ensure they keep on the tails of title rivals Manchester City.
Before the game it was announced that the North stand at the Theatre of Dreams would be renamed after Ferguson while a statue of the legendary manager will also be unveiled in the near future outside the ground.
Unfortunately for the Scottish coach, his side's performance did not leave him with too wide a smile, while Sunderland rarely looked threatening in attack, their organised defensive setup frustrated the home side for much of the game.
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 Rio Ferdinand returned in place of Jonny Evans. 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 ex-United players in his team. Phil Bardsley replaced the Irishman at full-back, while Brown and Kieran Richardson also started at the back.
Keiren 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 were effectively stifled by the visitors throughout the opening half hour of play.
It was Sunderland who created the first two chances of the match, Sebastian Larsson volleying into the side netting from inside the box before Nicklas 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.
The England striker’s deployment at the tip of a seemingly midfield diamond proved ineffective due to the visitor's tactics, with Sunderland’s fluid front four swarming the space between the United defence and midfield, while Cattermole and Jack Colback sat in deeper positions.
United front | The Red Devils celebrate after a Wes Brown own goal secures victory
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's side had contained the home side's threat well until the end of the first half.
As so often 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 period began in much the same fashion, with United remaining largely untroubled in defence, but as the game progressed, Sunderland began to push for an equaliser and space opened up.
Nani 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 looked to send numbers forward in search of a goal but they struggled to get possession off the hosts, whilst Bendtner and substitute Ji Dong-Won lacked 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.
United had their best two chances of the match minutes later and only two stunning saves from Westwood prevented them 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 ball across the six-yard box that evaded everyone, including the outstretched leg of Bendtner, who was only inches away from poking the delivery beyond Lindegaard.
The goal would not come, though, as a far from vintage United did enough to keep themselves in second place and the pressure on Roberto Mancini's City.
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