Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United
Absolutely abject throughout, squeaky-bum time turned out to be two quick farts from a brilliant Adnan Januzaj to kill off a hard-working but painfully impotent Sunderland side at the Stadium of Light. Inept and completely void of communication, United were clearly intent upon losing a third successive league game in a row for the first time since December 2001 as Phil Jones, Nemanja Vidic and even Rafael Da Silva unleashed a plethora of comedy capers, as one embarrassing blunder at the back followed another. Had Sunderland owned the least iota of moxy vis-a-vis finishing, Kevin Ball would now have a full-time job as their manager. Unfortunately, still at the bottom of the table with just one point, caretaker boss Ball’s side missed a slew of sitters as United, collectively terrified of the bulk of the big Yank, Jozy Altidore, repeatedly avoided making even the slightest contact with him.
When Adnan Januzaj grabbed two clever goals in the second half, the hugs and kisses of pure relief planted on his forehead by Patrice Evra were those of a man pardoned at the last second in front of a firing squad. Making his first start for United, the 18-year-old enjoyed a dream debut. Save for Sunderland’s Adam Johnson, who took turns switching wings and humiliating both Rafael and Evra throughout the match until his puzzling substitution, Januuzaj conjured up a brilliant man-of-the-match performance and a plethora of comparisons to the likes of George Best, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs. Although he still looks only about twelve-years-old this little pocket Exocet–who we managed to nick from Anderlecht’s academy almost three years ago–absolutely oozes quality. He may not be the immediate cure for Mr. Moyes’ sack full of problems, but he at least seems to put us back to where we were at the beginning of last season: Ready to return to that persona of comeback heart-attack kids.
“We gave away a terrible goal and needed David de Gea to keep us in the game, but apart from that we played some really good stuff,” the United manager said. It was yet another Moyesie ‘Say What?’ moment. And, as much as I refuse to jump on the bandwagon that wants to prematurely give him the heave-ho, I really question the shepherding abilities of someone who expresses himself in a manner that opens him up to such easy ridicule. Sometimes you can insinuate the most by saying the least!
United got off to exactly the sort of start Moyes must have been obsessing on avoiding all week during training, going a goal down inside five minutes through a defensive mix-up. When Emanuele Giaccherini’s cross went straight to Phil Jones, he had a panic-attack, half-heartedly pushing his clearance in Nemanja Vidic’s direction. This had the shocked United captain tripping over the ball, before it somehow trickled away from him and landed in front of Craig Garner on the six yard line. Gardner didn’t hit it cleanly, but there was enough venom on the twisting ball to carry it past a wrong-footed David De Gea. Three minutes later, the journeyman Gardner almost had a brace, nicking the ball off the feet of Jones as he made one of his patented funny faces by the penalty spot. Luckily, with Vidic screaming at him, Jones managed to launch himself out of his foggy fugue and retrieve the ball before Gardner could shoot.
Minutes later, Januzaj’s first attempt on goal went wide. A beautifully struck piledriver from the edge of the area, it only missed by inches. Nani then went even closer midway through the first half with a right-foot volley. On a day when his dribbling skills were all systems go, his decisions about what to do with the final ball were frustrating throughout. Unmarked at the far post just before half-time, the Cape Verdean winger should have made short work of one of Patrice Evra’s few good crosses but somehow botched it.
With Cleverley and Carrick firing blanks and casually letting themselves be taken out of the game by Lee Cattermole’s relentless pressing game, they were a non-factor in the first half. With Rooney and Van Persie forced to go back into midfield to collect the ball, United made heavy weather of imposing themselves on Sunderland. The two strikers worked hard, but had a tough time of it, trying to do two jobs at once. Indeed, the visitors would have gone two down just past the half hour but for a wonderful save from David de Gea. Giaccherini’s header from Adam Johnson’s excellent cross was text book, sending the ball back the way it came and bound for the inside of De Gea’s right hand post, before the catlike goalkeeper sprang back across his goal to claw it away. Nani also brought a fine save from Keiran Westwood before the interval as United continued to impress going forward. Still. they were repeatedly unable to cash in on these counterattacks and there remained every chance that another lapse of concentration at the back would undo their few moments of good work. The lively Giaccherini should have increased Sunderland’s lead on the stroke of the interval but shot wastefully high from a good position, set up when Johnson retained control on the left of the area after avoiding ineffective lunges from both Jones and Vidic. Five minutes later, an even better De Gea save from Adam Johnson stifled them yet again.
Maintaining a Belgian presence for United in the absence of the injured Marouane Fellaini, Januzaj looked absolutely confident and fearless. In a single moment of immaturity, the kid got himself booked by the referee for diving at the start of the second half, but then he quickly redeemed himself by scoring the equalizer. 55 minutes in, Januzaj fed Evra on the left, before moving up to accept the return and place a side-footed shot beyond Westwood. The baby-faced killer’s first ever Premier League goal was deliciously elegant in its execution.
Yet we only had to wait six minutes more to see something far more awesome for his second goal. It came after an awkward headed clearance by John O’Shea of a dipping Nani cross. It flew straight to the left corner of the penalty box where Janizaj was loitering with calm intent. A thing of hard, deliberate beauty, the ball came in on him at mid-thigh level and young Januzaj shifted sideways, cocked himself and calmly volleyed it right past Westwood into Sunderland”s net.
Most of the fortitude left Sunderland then. In spite of much running and being able to maintain the lion’s share of possession against an ineffectual Manchester United even then, the Mackems never looked like they could steal a victory over the last 30 minutes of the match. Stuck on one point, their owner Ellis Short needs to make some important decisions concerning the club quickly.
As for United, it was interesting to hear from Wayne Rooney the next day that he fault the team had very much let their new manager down. With all the relentlessly percolating gossip in the rumor mills about Rooney leaving for Paris St, Germain or Chelsea, it was good to hear what sounded like a verbal olive branch being offered by the England striker. On a weekend where Tottenham Hotspur lost at home and Arsenal were held to a draw, it became readily apparent that this season has a long way to go and that anyone who totally writes off Manchester United will live to regret it. Bad on the night? Yes! Comeback kids? Yes also. The season will surely get a lot stranger yet!