It’s funny to read in the press and from United fans on the blog that Sunderland were robbed of three points yesterday – not because I don’t think United were dreadful, because we were, but because Sunderland didn’t really do anything. I think Steve Bruce set up his team brilliantly and was very impressed that they didn’t park the bus, but despite us passing to them every other pass, they only saw 37% of the ball and only had three attempts on goal all match, one of which that should have been struck off for a foul on the keeper.
Foster should have been far more commanding when coming out to collect the ball from Jones’ path but that doesn’t change the fact the Sunderland striker lead with his arm. I can only assume Darren Fletcher shouted “Are you blind as well as fat, you stupid twat?!” to earn him a yellow card immediately after Alan Wiley just seemed to stand there, not knowing what to do as Jones wheeled away to the away fans. Whilst not overly impressed with Foster’s contribution it doesn’t change the fact Jones’ arm/elbow was being rammed in to Foster’s face/neck, and if that had been the more competent Edwin Van der Sar, rather than the keeper our fans have already written off, we’d be furious that Wiley allowed the goal to stand.
Regardless, whilst pleased to have been given a game by a team prepared to go forward at Old Trafford, it can’t be denied that we were just dreadful. It was as if a spell had been cast over the team to ensure that every pass had to go astray. When even Paul Scholes can’t successfully find a player four yards away from him, you have to wonder what the fuck is going on.
Anderson came on at the break to replace Scholesy, who had picked up another silly yellow card, with the idea that he could just run the ball through midfield, given that we clearly weren’t able to pass it. By and large, he fulfilled this role, although he was also susceptible to the team’s inability to pass from time to time.
I can only assume that the fans giving a quick boo at half time were the same wankers chanting over Ferguson’s end of season speech. The Stretford End were the prime culprits but reassuringly ‘we love United, we do’ was sung immediately after, putting to shame the idiots who showed us all up. Who wants to be part of a crowd that boo their team despite being top of the league because of a 45 minute crap performance? God knows I laughed at Anfield’s crowd last season when they did the same thing against West Ham but now I don’t have any room to talk. Embarrassing.
Our first goal came from a individual piece of brilliance from our best player on the pitch, again, Dimitar Berbatov. He was clearly made up with scoring but was eager to get on with the game, get it won, pulling away from Rooney to get the ball out of the net and back to the centre of the field. His ability to keep the ball yesterday, by and large, allowed us to keep our heads just above the water at times, with him coming extremely deep to collect it and spreading the play wide.
Sadly, Danny Welbeck looked out of his depth yesterday but his work rate was good and he can only become good enough for these occasions by being played in them. It didn’t work out yesterday but I don’t see any purpose in being too critical of him. He tried hard but at the moment he just doesn’t have the physical presence required for a battling opponent like Sunderland. On the other wing, Nani was again frustrating but we did see more end product from him. He whipped in a few really dangerous balls and on another day could have had a few assists to his name. This is the first time he’s been given a good solid run out in the team, week in week out more or less, and I will wait until we’re half way or all the way through the season before judging him entirely. We haven’t seen the best of him and we wouldn’t have seen the best of Cristiano Ronaldo, the fella he is supposed to be replacing, if he played one match in four or five, like Nani spent most of last season doing.
A player who has already failed at becoming a United winger, Kieran Richardson, wisely claimed that he now knew that “the name on the front of the shirt is more important than the one on the back” before the game, showing maybe a change in attitude for the player who was booed by our fans when he lifted the Premiership trophy with us in 2007 and scored in the FA Cup semi-final against Watford. Sadly for him, this isn’t the case. Booked for a cynical challenge on Welbeck in the first half, Richardson was then given his marching orders for petulantly kicking the ball away after fouling Antonio Valencia. With time running out, Valencia ran over to collect the ball, at which point Richardson stopped talking to the linesman and quickly reacted to kick the ball away from our man. He then claimed innocence but it fell on deaf ears, even his manager’s, who correctly labelled it a “stupid” act in his post-match interview.
In Sir Alex Ferguson’s comments following the game, he singled out the referee over any of his own players, in a bid to deflect attention from our poor display. Whilst it does make the manager look fairly petty, he certainly did have a point. When Anton Ferdinand was booked midway in to the second half for a foul on Berbatov, Wiley took an age to record the details and wouldn’t allow us to take the freekick until he was done. He was well outside the box when Jones fouled Foster, only managing a jog to get in to a position that clearly didn’t give him a good enough view of what happened.
The biggest disappointment of the day though was probably Wayne Rooney, who sadly seems to come in and out of form without you even realising it. He was poor yesterday, losing the ball time and again, hesitating before shooting which allowed the defenders to get a block in, and his passing was dreadful. All players can have games like that and even Fletcher, who we’ve relied so heavily on to be a big performer, just wasn’t at the races. It’s on days like this that you need a bit of luck.
After a couple of goal-mouth scrambles and another four or so corners, United finally got one of the goals they needed after Anton Ferdinand deflected the ball in to the back of his own net, following a strike from Patrice Evra. The fact that Evra was up for a corner is telling enough to how strongly we were bombarding the box, given he is always the player we leave on the half way line in the event of a break from the opposition.
“We rescued a game in which we played so badly,” said Ferguson. “Our passing was just not what I expect of the team, right throughout the game. But credit to the players, they never give in. It’s a good quality to have. We’ve got something out of the game on a day when we’ve played really badly.”
Football games aren’t played on paper but that doesn’t change the fact we had created more than double the chances Sunderland did (12 shots to their 5), forced defensive intervention to lead to a ridiculous number of corners (15 corners to their 1), and totally dominated possession (63% to their 37%). I’m not arguing we deserved to win the game, because we didn’t, we simply didn’t play well enough. But equally, whilst Sunderland played to their strengths and did a good job of containing a woeful performing United side, it’s hard to argue they deserved all of the three points, regardless of who you blame for Sunderland’s second goal.
It’s a good time for an International break, with our players spending time reflecting on what they must do differently next match and our manager remembering we’re just eight matches in to the season and there is no excuse for not playing the strongest available team in the league.