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Sunderland review: United champions until the end

Sunderland   0  vs  Manchester United   1  (Nani)

If ever a single game reflected an entire season, this 1-0 defeat of a feisty Sunderland by Manchester United at the Stadium of Light must go mighty close to it. They enjoyed a confident enough start in which Nani put his side ahead just before the half hour with a sharp finish at the end of a fluid move involving no lass than six one touch passes. That confidence slowly disappeared during a nervous second half in which a stretched defence had to work hard to protect that slender lead.

In the end, the champions did what real champions always do. They succeeded in taking the title race down to the wire earning themselves a slim chance of somehow retaining it right at the death. It will be a tall order because not only does United have to beat Stoke City at Old Trafford in their final game on Sunday, Chelsea know that the title will be theirs if they beat Wigan in London.

Striker Wayne Rooney made a welcome return to the starting lineup but while he tried as hard as he always does he did not seem to have his usual sharpness. United missed a number of good opportunities which could have given them a far more comfortable victory with Dimitar Berbatov alone failing to find the net with enough chances to have given him a hat trick before being replaced by Michael Carrick with 20 minutes remaining.

Carrick looked set to seal the win almost immediately after keeper Craig Gordon had saved bravely at the feet of Rooney but Michael Turner got back to clear his effort off the line with his keeper still grounded. United were made to work hard in the final 10 minutes but as much as they tried, Sunderland could not find an equalizer.

With only seconds of injury time remaining  midfielder Owen Hargreaves finally made his return to competitive action after knee injuries kept him on the sidelines since September 2008. United’s wastefulness didn’t matter in the end as they secured a fully deserved victory. Given the amount of pressure they were under after Chelsea’s win at Liverpool earlier in the day, winning the three points was always the objective.

This was a performance which was more frustrating than entertaining despite taking the points in much the same way that an injury riddled season saw Ferguson and his team take all the big hits. Yet they’re still standing with a slim chance of landing a telling blow in the final round. Does anyone remember Wigan  3 v Chelsea  1 back in September? Like all champions, Manchester United have that inbuilt instinct to continue fighting until the very end.

Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Turner, Mensah (Kilgallon 17m), Malbranque, Richardson, Henderson (Jones 74m) Meyler (Cattermole 37m), Cana, Campbell, Bent

Manchester United: Van der Sar, O’Shea, Vidic, Evans, Evra, Nani (Hargreaves 90m), Scholes, Fletcher (Ferdinand 87m), Giggs, Berbatov (Carrick 70m), Rooney

26 September 2009 – Wigan  3  v  Chelsea  1  Will Wigan do it again on Sunday?

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