Anton Ferdinand Own Goal Salvages Point For United Late On
Sir Alex Ferguson says he takes “special pride” in seeing former players doing well as managers but he seems determined to deny Steve Bruce achievement. The Sunderland boss was moments away from a first win in 13 attempts over his mentor in management before yet another Manchester United equaliser in stoppage time. On this occasion, it was only the 93rd minute — and not the 95th, as it was when United controversially scored to beat Manchester City.
Amid furious shelling of Sunderland’s box, Patrice Evra drove in a shot from 18 yards and it deflected off Anton Ferdinand to make it 2-2.
It barely seemed deserved — like Kieran Richardson’s harsh sending off for a marginal second booking. This was almost as bad a puncturing of United’s aura as Chelsea suffered in their defeat at Wigan last week.The title really is anybody’s — especially when the holders play like this. Trailing to a superb early Darren Bent goal, United’s responded meekly and, reprieved by a spectacular equaliser by Dimitar Berbatov, softly conceded another goal.
Steven Reid, weathering Darren Fletcher’s high challenge, with Alan Wiley, the referee, playing a good advantage, advanced with the ball and crossed for Kenwyne Jones to sneak between Nemanja Vidic and Ben Foster to head in. Foster’s judgement looked questionable for the goal and that, plus Bent’s striker, gave a watching Fabio Capello food for thought.
Ferdinand was the name of one of the players England coach Fabio Capello came to see, but not Sunderland’s Anton. Rio was left on the United bench, one of seven changes made by Sir Alex Ferguson from Wednesday’s win against Wolfsburg and that seemed a few too many as United, incoherent in defence and attack, ceded the initiative early and struggled to reassert themselves.
Bruce, having previously failed to beat Ferguson in 12 attempts as a manager, must have expected a United backlash when Bent scored but instead saw his side see out the remainder of the first period in relative comfort. Indeed, Sunderland should have had an opportunity to increase their lead when the half entered stoppage time. Evra seemed to pull back Steed Malbranque right on the edge of the box but Alan Wiley, the referee, declined to give the foul.
Only Richardson could lose a battle of wills with Nani but when the Portuguese winger beat his marker on the flank, his final ball was poor and that typified United. Their passing lacked pace, their crosses accuracy and Wayne Rooney’s supporting attackers — Nani, Dimitar Berbatov, Danny Welbeck — made no impact.
Rooney himself struggled for touch and vented his frustration by taking a kick at Andy Reid after the ball had gone. It was Rooney’s fortune that Wiley opted for the chummy lecture rather than yellow card.
Bruce seemed to have got his gameplan right. Sunderland controlled midfield, with Lorik Cana sitting deep to pick up Rooney or whichever United player dropped into the hole and Lee Cattermole was aggressive and industrious.
Jones and Bent made it awkward for United’s Ferdinand-less defence and Bent’s early goal was gorgeous. Jones held up the ball and gave it to Cattermole, who found Bent and the striker, hoping for a recall by Capello, struck a precise shot between the near post and a diving Foster.
Yet Berbatov eclipsed this piece of striking. Re-emerging after half-time, United finally got a semblance of their game together, the Bulgarian especially. In the 51st minute John O’Shea crossed and Berbatov, twisting and falling backwards, connected with something between a flying volley and an overhead kick to score from 12 yards.