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They say that it is the stuff of champions to win ugly when required, and that is exactly what United did on Saturday against Sunderland at Old Trafford, playing a rather lackadaisical game of football before scraping through with a 1-0 victory thanks to an own goal from former employee Wes Brown. Sunderland were rather impressive and had their moments, but saw the loss leave them on 10 points from their 11 games, while United climbed above Newcastle to second with 26 points from their 11, two behind leaders Manchester City, who play later in the day.
Wayne Rooney was once again deplyed in a central midfield for United, partnering Darren Fletcher, with Park Ji-Sung and Nani played on the wings. Dimitar Berbatov started United's previous game, but was again left out as Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck lined up in attack. At the back, Rio Ferdinand returned to form a familiar central defensive partnership with skipper Nemanja Vidic, while Patrice Evra and Phil Jones flanked the duo. Sir Alex Ferguson again shuffled his keeper around, with Anders Lindegaard preferred to David de Gea in between the sticks.
Sunderland too had a new face in goal, as Keiran Westwood was started ahead of the injured Simon Mignolet. Three out of the four defenders for the visitors were ex-United players, with Michael Turner lining up alongside Wes Brown, Keiran Richardson and Phil Bardsley along the Black Cats' backline. Lee Cattermole was reinstated in the center of midfield alongside Jack Colback, while Stephane Sessegnon and Seb Larsson, two of Sunderland's most impressive players this season, played on either side of the duo. Steve Bruce did what not too many managers are brave enough to do, fielding a two-pronged attack consisting young Connor Wickham and loanee Nicklas Bendtner.
For all the buzz that could be seen around the ground before the game started when the Sir Alex Ferguson stand was unveiled, the game by itself was rather muted in its opening periods, with United's prosaic passing unable to break down the compact Black Cats' backline. Sunderland on the other hand were stroking the ball around confidently, and had the better of the chances in the opening half an hour, with Bendtner's side-footed effort needing Lindegaard to make a smart stop, and Larsson's snapshot from the right ricocheted off Evra into the side-netting.
It took United 42 minutes to fashion their first real chance of the game, when a half-clearance on the edge of the Sunderland box fell for Jones. Unfortunately for the youngster, the ball climbed on a him a bit too rapidly, with Jones unable to keep his volley down on target.
The chance seemed to spur the hosts on, as Nani and Jones exchanged a good one-two moments later before the former smacked a low shot from an acute angle that Westwood had to push away. Sunderland had done enough to keep United at bay for the first half it seemed, but the Red Devils claimed a crucial first goal in the second minute of added time, thanks to some help from a former United man. Nani's corner was played into a good area where Welbeck got his head to the ball, but the crucial touch came off Wes Brown, who inadvertently headed past Westwood to give United the lead when the teams went in for the break.
United, much like the first half, were patient on the ball after the restart, and came close to grabbing a second on 62 minutes, Richardson on hand to knock away Rooney's header from another Nani corner. The chances were coming easier for United in the second half, and the visitors were kept in the game by some brilliant keeping from Westwood, who made a great double save, first denying Rooney from a left-footed volley, and then Evra from close-range.
Sunderland however were holding their own in the United half, and could have got on level terms with a quarter of an hour left on the clock, but Larsson's drilled cross from the right wing just evaded the outstretched legs of Nicklas Bendtner and rolled to safety.
Hernandez had the last real chance of the game, collecting a superb defence-splitting pass from substitute Michael Carrick, but lacked the composure to apply the finish, screwing his effort high and wide. The game however ended soon afterwards, with United keeping their fourth clean sheet in a row to earn a much-needed three points.
Manchester United (4-4-2) - Lindegaard, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher (Fabio 90'), Rooney, Park (Carrick 83'), Nani, Welbeck (Berbatov 73'), Hernandez
Sunderland (4-4-2) - Westwood, Bardsley, Brown, Turner, Richardson, Cattermole, Colback (Meyler 76'), Larsson, Wickham (Ji 5'), Sessegnon (Al-Muhamadi 76'), Bendtner
Final Scoreline: Manchester United 1 - 0 Sunderland
Scorer: Manchester United - Brown (o.g.) 45'
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