What The Gaffer Said
Martin O'Neill appeared to share the frustrations of the support following this one rather than incurr them himself. He told safc.com.
Coming to Old Trafford can sometimes be daunting and I think we gave a very good side a little bit too much respect early on in the game.
Their first goal was a mistake on our part and we probably should have dealt with it better.
At that point it could have got a little bit more frenetic.
It was a really spirited performance in the second half. We improved and created some very good chances.
It could have made for a really interesting finish, but we were unable to put them away.
[Stephane] Sessegnon helped us get our goal back but we were unable to reduce the deficit any further, which was naturally disappointing with the chances we had.
We can take a lot of heart from the second-half performance.
There are a lot of big games coming up and they're going to be important for us.
As per usual, O'Neill sums it all up quite succinctly, particularly with his observation that Manchester United were given too much respect early on.
One thing I did find interesting was how it was Stephane Sessegnon and not the goalscorer Fraizer Campbell that he singled out for credit for the Sunderland goal. Perhaps O'Neill no longer considers Campbell's confidence worth massaging and it is the clearest indication yet that he will be leaving the club next month.
I suppose time will tell.
The Wickham/Fletcher Conundrum
This 'kick' may not be all that 'quick', so bare with me.
Obviously, Connor Wickham has kicked on of late much more than any of us really expected. He is making himself almost impossible to ignore right now and I am sure he will be featuring prominently in O'Neill's thoughts too.
Whether or not Wickham and Fletcher could play together is not really up for debate. I think we are all very confident they could. In fact, I think we are all excited at the prospect.
The more relevant question is just how to fit them both in the side together, and it once again leads back to the old debate about 4-4-2.
Personally, as a wider point, I consider 4-4-2 to be largely dead at this level. In the days of freely marauding full backs as standard adding to an already numerically dominant opposition midfield, it is just too inflexible to cope with the demands of the modern game.
There probably is an option to use it and bypass the midfield entirely with long balls and Fletcher and Wickham are both players who can receive that kind of service, but again the numbers game will always be against you when looking to pick up the crucial second ball.
But we shouldn't fall into the trap of believing that two up front has to mean 4-4-2 by default. It is just one option. There are plenty of other options more conducive to the modern game that have two out and out forwards.
Perhaps a look to the past can provide one of those options. Martin O'Neill essentially made his name in management with a 5-3-2 wing-back system at Leicester which incorporated a front two very similar to what Wickham and Fletcher would be.
Tony Cottee and Emile Heskey (version 1.0 - the decent version) had all the same components: the raw brute strength of one and the cunning movement and clinical finishing of another. It would also help compensate for the lack of midfield mobility by getting an extra body in there.
The system used to be quite commonplace in the 90s but questions have been asked as to how viable it is in the modern game. Lately, though, those questions have been quite comprehensively answered by Juventus enjoying spectacular success with it.
The drawback would be the difficulty in fitting in all of the more creative players. It would probably be a case of McClean OR Rose on the left and Sessegnon OR Johnson to slip into midfield.
Bramble O'Shea Cuellar
Larsson Sessegnon Cattermole Gardner Rose
Another option, and one that could fit in both Sessegnon and Johnson, could be a 4-3-1-2. The modern penchant for holding midfield players would make it tougher for the player between attack and defence than it has been in the past, but it would also give him the opportunity to drag the midfield player out of his position and create space for others.
Just how easily opposition full backs could be tracked would be an obvious concern, however.
Gardner O'Shea Cuellar Rose
Sessegnon Cattermole Colback
That is just two options, but there are many more. The point is, whether we think 4-4-2 is dead or not, or whether Martin O'Neill still considers it a viable option or not, there are plenty of ways to accommodate a front two without exposing the centre of midfield.
It isn't simply a case of 4-4-2 or one up front and we shouldn't get locked into thinking of football in such one-dimensional terms.
This is just some simple and indulgent theorizing on my part, but the point is valid. Connor Wickham is banging on the door demanding a role in the side, and it is certainly in our long term interests to get him playing as much football as we can. It is now up to O'Neill to think a little outside the box and come up with a system for the modern game that allows it.