Date:Saturday April 11 2009
Everything he touches turns to gold - that's Ricky Sbragia's opinion. The Sunderland manager saw his side fight valiantly against Manchester United yet lose thanks to a more than fortunate goal, scored by who other than Kiko Macheda.
Fergie surely kept an eye on Porto as Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra and Cristiano Ronaldo were all absent from the starting eleven. Berbatov was a surprise inclusion as he hadn't been expected to recover in time to face the Black Cats.
United started the better and kept the ball very well, thanks to Paul Scholes' most assured performance in weeks and to Wayne Rooney's extraordinary work down the left. We struggled to create chances though, coming closest when Vidic's header was cleared off the line by a defender.
But Sunderland offered little until Rooney's first really good cross found Scholes who sent a clever header into the top corner of the net from 12 yards. United deserved that goal but Sunderland's response was swift and, you have to say, admirable.
They started coming at us in waves, sending cross after cross into the penalty box as the unbearably slow Gary Neville and John O'Shea failed to deal with their attacks on the flanks. And though we found it very, very difficult to handle Kenwyne Jones it was Jonny Evans who almost equalised, possibly remembering his Sunderland days: his scuffed attempt at a clearance hit the inside of the post...
Yet United reached the interval with their noses still in front and at the start of the second it looked like Sunderland blew their chance, for a much more organised outfit faced them. Gone were the huge spaces in midfield: United controlled the game, kept possession and looked like they would not relinquish their superiority.
How quickly things change. Another cross, this time from Teemu Tainio, should have been Ben Foster's but he missed it and Kenwyne Jones slotted it home from a difficult angle.
United plunged into their reserves of energy and laid siege to the Sunderland goal, even though the hosts' quick breaks represented a permanent danger. Carrick, Scholes and Rooney all had dangerous shots while Tevez could not find a gap after being played in by Scholes - his shot was eventually blocked by a defender.
Fergie sent on Ronaldo for the ineffective Park and though he showed some appetite for a fight which he hasn't really done recently, he was quite poor. Nothing he tried really came off so another gamble was required: off came Berbatov who looked distinctly unfit all afternoon and in came Federico Macheda, the hero of the Aston Villa game.
And his first touch indeed turned to gold. Less than a minute after his introduction, Carrick took aim and fired a shot from 20 yards. It would have gone wide, probably, but Macheda intervened: it definitely looked like he meant to jump out of the way of the shot but he failed and the ball got deflected into the far corner off his boot.
It's quite incredible, isn't it? A mere 6 days after scoring a sensational, brilliant, magical goal he comes in and scores another winner with his first touch - even though he barely knows what he's doing! We were short of this sort of luck in recent weeks and it's high time that somebody in the team displays such a touch: because we need players who have the confidence to win games.
Right now all what matters is being back on top and of course there's one less game left to play. Sooner or later our pursuers might stumble as well - but if United keep winning, even with such untidy goals, there is no need to look over our shoulders.
Date:Saturday April 11 2009
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