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Fergie satisfied with point as United attack misfires


Manchester United's Paul Scholes battles for the ball with Sunderland's Steed Malbranque during their Premier League clash at the Stadium of Light

Manchester United's Paul Scholes battles for the ball with Sunderland's Steed Malbranque during their Premier League clash at the Stadium of Light

Manchester United's Paul Scholes battles for the ball with Sunderland's Steed Malbranque during their Premier League clash at the Stadium of Light

The kick-off of this match was delayed by 20 minutes due to a burst water pipe bringing down the ceiling in the Manchester United dressing room. And the Commonwealth Games athletes think they have it rough. They don't have Rolex watches and designer threads to rescue from flood damage.

The roof only fell in on United once, however, despite Sunderland's best efforts. The visitors will regard this as two points dropped, and a missed chance to catch Chelsea at the top of the table. However, after having the better of their last two games, against Liverpool and now United, Sunderland have reason to feel the same. With Michael Owen and Federico Macheda surprise choices to lead the United attack, Alex Ferguson's men caused Sunderland few problems in the first period, and better home finishing and a bit more luck could have seen the home side turn round in front.

"We had to defend very well today," Ferguson said.

"The back four were fantastic and I'm satisfied with a point. Sunderland played very well and the most important thing for us was not conceding a goal." Typical of Ferguson to pick an area he could praise. His initial front line was not a conspicuous success, and he ended up using three attacking substitutes, including a league debut for the untested Bebe, in a bid to pinch a late victory for the second time in a week.

Steve Bruce kept his £15m striker Asamoah Gyan in reserve again for most of the match, which made his lament that Sunderland need to sharpen up in front of goal a bit of a lame one. "We rely too much on Benty at times," he said, as if it was someone else who decided to play with just one striker. "We needed a break today, but we are not taking our chances."

Sunderland created by far the better first-half opportunities and should have taken the lead when Lee Cattermole's excellent through ball put Steed Malbranque one-on-one with Edwin van der Sar, only for the goalkeeper's reactions to foil a less than decisive strike. Darren Bent or Gyan might have done better, but only one of them was playing, and Bent was finding it fairly hard going on his own against Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

When Sunderland gave him a fighting chance by passing to feet through the middle, rather than optimistically hoofing the ball skywards in his general direction, Bent showed a touch and an awareness of players around him that will have pleased Fabio Capello in advance of his next England squad. Bent was involved in setting up the position that brought Sunderland closest to a goal eight minutes from the break. When Malbranque's initial shot was blocked, the impressive Lee Cattermole calmly fed Bolo Zenden for a follow-up attempt, only to see the Dutch veteran crash a shot against Van der Sar's right-hand upright from 20 yards out.

Owen and Macheda were not having the most productive of afternoons, though the real problem was that United were not playing with much width or creating anything from midfield, where Anderson, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher were failing to link effectively. It was hardly a surprise to see Dimitar Berbatov replace Owen at half-time, but United still needed to find a way of supplying him. The Bulgarian had the ball in the net within a couple of minutes of his arrival, but was correctly brought back for offside after sticking out a foot to deflect Scholes' shot past Simon Mignolet. Ferguson sent on Javier Hernandez, his midweek match winner, for the last 25 minutes, though it was Sunderland who again came close to scoring when Malbranque's shot deflected off Ferdinand and landed on the roof of the net. With Bruce still resisting the temptation to send on an extra forward, the now toiling Bent missed a passable chance at the near post from Phil Bardsley's cross.

When Ferguson sent on Bebe for the last 10 minutes Bruce was finally shamed into making a double substitution, bringing Gyan and Andy Reid into the attack. Berbatov shot narrowly wide at one end, an acrobatic Gyan effort was comfortably dealt with by Van der Sar at the other, but this time there was to be no late breakthrough for either side.

"It's another point, but look at the run of games we've had," Bruce said. "Since we beat Manchester City, we have held Arsenal, Liverpool and now United. They were all decent performances, too. I don't think a team has ever worked so hard to earn eight points."


Sunday Independent