Sunderland (h): It's Usually Dire And Difficult
Most teams do not like to visit Old Trafford. I think it's safe to assume that as we are usually very efficient on our own ground. Yet some teams had a penchant of getting a result here: Middlesbrough were famous for it and of course Chelsea have an excellent record at OT.
Sunderland are not at that level of 'bogeyness' but they gave us a real game whenever they visited Old Trafford in recent years. For some reason, they can usually smother most of our attacking threat, even though we eventually crack them.
Let's go back as far as 2003. On New Year's Day we hosted Sunderland who were bottom of the Premiership and heading towards relegation. Yet they took the lead at Old Trafford and their defence and second choice goalkeeper Jürgen Macho produced a superlative performance to keep us in bay until the 80th minute. Paul Scholes had a shot which hit both posts but bounced out!
United won that game, with goals from Beckham and Scholes but it was a surprise that Sunderland, leaking goals all season, came so close to thwarting our title-chasing side that day. Indeed, they were dangerous on the break and had a real chance to go two up but their passing let them down.
Fast forward to April 2006, the next meeting between the sides. United were chasing Chelsea, hoping for an unlikely collapse and faced a supposedly easy home game against the Black Cats who, once again, were heading for relegation. They put ten men behind the ball and frustrated us immensely, even though they were under incredible pressure throughout the game. Rooney, Ronaldo and co. kept missing every chance and we could not score even when we had Rooney, Ronaldo, Solskjaer and Van Nistelrooy on the pitch at the same time.
United's faint title hopes virtually ended that day (we still had a mathematical chance but that's all) and to be honest few of us felt sorry that we weren't going to face Sunderland next season. But they won the Championship in 2007, setting up another visit to Old Trafford which came in September of that year.
United were stil in their early season slumber, grinding out 1-0 wins. And the game against Sunderland, again, wasn't very good: we exerted some pressure but created few clear-cut chances, Gordon made a few good saves and they stood their ground. Once again they were undone by a single goal, scored by Saha who headed home after Nani's corner but again, they had a real chance of taking a point, even if all three were out of the question, given their unambitious display.
And then of course last season when once again, we threw the kitchen sink at Sunderland yet they resisted, right until injury time when desperation and a little luck came to our aid to secure the three points after an overwhelmingly dominant display.
Is there point to all these recollections, you may ask. Well, the point is that in recent years our home games against Sunderland have been difficult and dire. So we must not get our hopes up: it's unlikely to be a scintillating display tomorrow. The usual workmanlike win is much, much more probable.