When the pressure’s on, Manchester United so often produce the goods. Knowing defeat at the Stadium of Light would hand the title to Chelsea, Sir Alex’s men turned in a polished performance against a feisty Sunderland side to ensure the title race will now go down to the wire.
The win – achieved courtesy of a solitary goal from Nani's right boot – means Chelsea lead by just one point heading into the final day of the season. The Blues host Wigan, while United welcome Stoke City to Old Trafford.
It can’t have been easy for Sir Alex’s men to step onto the pitch in Sunderland after seeing Chelsea beat Liverpool at Anfield in the day’s early kick-off. But the Reds, boosted by the inclusion of Wayne Rooney from the opening whistle, began brightly.
Rooney, who had started only two of United’s last five fixtures, took just four minutes to make an impact, chesting down a cross from Dimitar Berbatov and volleying towards the far post. Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon was equal to the task and then grateful to his defenders for blocking Ryan Giggs’ follow-up.
At the other end, the home side threatened twice from set pieces: John Mensah headed wide from an early corner before captain Lorik Cana flicked that occasion, just as he was on 28 minutes when Nani fired low and hard past the Scottish stopper to give United the lead.
The Portuguese, starting in his preferred position on the right wing, applied the finish with the outside of his boot, but he owed the goal to the invention of Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher, who all played one-touch passes in the build-up to bamboozle the Black Cats’ back four. The goal was Nani’s fourth in his last four starts and reaffirmed the belief that the Reds’ no.17 is currently enjoying the form of his life.
United continued to dominate without ever really testing the Sunderland defence, although both Evra and Berbatov missed half chances to extend the lead before the break. Evra was at the heart of the action again in first-half stoppage time when he headed a tame effort off the line, but it would have been harsh on United had Sunderland pulled level at that stage.
The scoreline would have better reflected United's dominance had Nani’s effort early in the second half found the net. Instead, Gordon stood up well to block from close range. Then Berbatov twice missed the target from close range (the first from barely a yard out) after clever play from Rooney on both occasions. United had made enough chances to have put the game to bed by this stage and Reds fans must have been wondering if their team would be made to pay for such wasteful finishing.
was particularly physical and relished his battle with Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher. Scholes, yet again, was United’s star performer. Tough in the tackle and always looking to take the ball in tight spaces, he set the tempo in midfield and passed the ball superbly all afternoon.
Sir Alex sent on Michael Carrick for Berbatov on 71 minutes to add stability in midfield but the change did little to take the sting out of United’s attacking intentions. Within a minute, Rooney sent a ferocious effort just wide of Gordon’s right-hand post after Fletcher’s initial shot had been blocked. Carrick then went close after Nani teed up the former Tottenham midfielder on the edge of the box. His low shot beat Gordon but not Michael Turner, who had stationed himself on the line after the goalkeeper had ventured out to attempt to win the ball.
Ex-Red Fraizer Campbell hooked the ball wide with eight minutes remaining to remind United of just how precarious a 1-0 lead can be, but it was the last time the home side even remotely threatened. In the end, Nani's goal was enough to clinch the points and keep Sir Alex's men in the hunt for a 19th league title. There was even time – barely – for Owen Hargreaves to return to first-team football after 19 months on the sidelines and give United fans another reason to smile on the way home to Manchester.
But will the Premier League trophy end up in M16 next weekend? Let's be honest: it would take a minor miracle – Wigan must earn at least a point at Stamford Bridge assuming United beat Stoke – but in this most unpredictable of seasons it would be foolish to give up hope just yet.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Sunderland [0 - 1] Manchester United
28' [0 - 1] Nani
28' [0 - 1] Nani