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On This Day (2013): Sunderland legend Kevin Ball takes charge of last game as manager

Having stepped in after the departure of Paolo Di Canio, Sunderland legend Kevin Ball took charge of the Lads for the final time in a 2-1 home defeat against Manchester United - with two faces from the future spoiling the day.

Photo by Richard Sellers - PA Images via Getty Images

I think deep down, most fans would have loved to have seen Kevin Ball become a real success as Sunderland manager at some point.

Every time a manager leaves or gets sacked there’s a call from some supporters for Bally to get the job - it seems like a nice idea, and the dream of seeing a club legend lead us back to glory is an appealing one, but for whatever reason the stars just haven’t aligned, and it hasn’t happened.

Back in 2013, however, the prospect of big Kev getting the job on a permanent basis was certainly more realistic than it ever has been.

He’d been hugely successful with our U21s side, and if there was going to be a time to do it, this was it. Di Canio had been a total disaster, and people craved some normality. I don’t doubt for one second that Bally would have at least delivered on that.

His first game in charge was a morale-boosting cup win against Peterborough, but we were brought right back down to earth with a loss against a Louis Suarez-inspired Liverpool.

He wasn’t going to get many chances to show his credentials, and another tough fixture on this day eight years ago was on the cards - the visit of Champions, Manchester United.

The Red Devils were at that time led by future Sunderland manager - and absolute bell-piece - David Moyes, who had taken over in the summer from the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. He brought his out-of-form side north also in search of an important three points, having lost their previous two, and they needed a win almost as much as we did.

Lining up in a 4-3-3, Sunderland got off to a great start.

With little under five minutes on the clock, Sunderland took advantage of a timid opening to the game by taking the lead with the first significant chance of the game.

Good hustle by Emanuele Giaccherini down the right wing allowed him to put a decent cross into the area, where Jozy Altidore was waiting. It never made it to the American as Phil Jones cleared as far as Nemanja Vidic, who fluffed his lines straight to Gardner to slam the ball into the bottom corner past David De Gea from nine yards out.

The expected tidal wave of attack from the visitors in reply never really materialised following the opener.

Nani had a pair of strikes which he’ll feel he could have done better with - one from distance which flashed past the post while the other was when he found himself unmarked just seven yards from goal. Attempting a side-footed volley as opposed to leathering it, the ball ended up closer to the corner flag than the top corner of Keiren Westwood’s goal.

We went on to create our own chances in the first half too, and had we scored any of them you’d have said we were good value for extending our lead.

Craig Gardner — who was full of industry and hard work in the half — won the ball inside the United half and as he headed towards goal, indecision allowed Phil Jones to recover and make a goal-saving tackle inside the area. Unfortunately, Gardner seemed in two minds about playing the ball to Jozy Altidore in the middle or to go himself, in the end neither materialised.

Things calmed down somewhat for ten minutes or so while Adnan Januzaj fired one wide from the edge of the area, while another impressive midfielder for us, Emanuele Giaccherini, fired a freekick from the very edge of the area straight at the wall.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Giaccherini would have easily deserved a goal for his performance, and on two occasions he could — and should — have had one in the first half.

David Moyes’ side continued to press without any real threat to Westwood’s goalmouth, and Sunderland were very much the better side and good value for the lead as Chris Foy blew his halftime whistle.

Adnan Januzaj in the first half didn’t really live up to the hype which surrounds him, but it was he who was central to the visitors attacking play as the second half unfolded - firstly, he was booked for a horrendous and shameful dive inside the Sunderland area, secondly, however, he bagged the equaliser on 54-minutes.

Patrice Evra broke down the left, crossed low to the penalty spot where the young Belgian was arriving late into the area and was able to finish first time beyond a helpless Westwood.

Heads seemed to drop from then on as the visitors took control of the game, and the lead - once again through future Sunderland flop Januzaj.

Nani it was with the cross, and while John O’Shea probably thought he’d deflected it away to safety, instead it fell plum for Januzaj who fired on the volley across Westwood and into the bottom corner. A moment to savour for him, a moment of sourness for Sunderland.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Manchester United - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers - PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland tried their best to contain the waves of attack, however, it stifled any attacking threat for us, with long balls aimed more hopefully than precisely at Jozy Altidore, who’d begun to cut a forlorn figure in a lone striker role.

Everything just seemed to become more laboured for Sunderland, while United sat back and were happy enough knowing we seemed to run out of ideas. Connor Wickham, Ji Dong-Won and Seb Larsson were introduced in an attempt to liven things up but there was little reward or spark initially.

It took until the 83rd minute for Sunderland to begin to look anything like threatening again, when Larsson pinged a Lee Cattermole crossfield ball back into the area. Alas, there was nobody to meet it.

If anything it should have been 3-1. In the 88th minute Robin Van Persie — who’d been unusually quiet — got through one-on-one with Westwood and in the end didn’t even test the Mancunian-born Irishman as he toe-poked wide.

Five minutes of added time wasn’t enough to inspire any sort of chance of note. A series of corners, which included an appearance in the United area from Keiren Westwood, were about as close as we came to doing anything.

For as good as Sunderland were in the first half, they were just as poor in the second half.

As fans, we’re usually immediately looking for a scapegoat in these situations, but it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. Bally did everything right in selection and tactics, and the players followed through in the first half at least.

However, the visitors' superiority in class proved to be the difference - and Bally’s rein was over.


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