It never feels like the good ol’ days when you are actually living through them. Nobody tells you to enjoy it while it lasts and back in Steve Bruce’s first season in charge, it felt, at least for a while, that we might be going places.
During the previous season we had come to terms with the end of the Roy Keane era at the Stadium of Light and the summer of 2009, we saw a mini reboot of the club.
First of all, interim manager Ricky Sbragia, although a popular figure at the club (catch his podcast with Roker Report here if you missed it), made way and Steve Bruce finally arrived to take the job after a protracted move from Wigan Athletic.
After that, Bruce went to work on building a squad with a certain type of player in mind. To summarise this, our new central midfield pairing that made their debuts on the opening day against Gary Megson’s Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium, was Lorik Cana and Lee Cattermole.
The biggest signing of the summer however, was when the new manager and the club gave a real statement of intent by bringing Darren Bent to the club from Tottenham Hotspur. The thought of Bent partnering Kenwyne Jones up top was a tantalising one and in the early stages of the season it was looking tasty.
The previous fixture leading up to the game at Old Trafford was a perfect example, where Jones bagged a brace and Darren Bent scored from the spot in a 5-2 demolition of Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light. This has placed us 8th in the Premier League table after seven games and expectation levels were rising with each game.
Next up however, was a daunting trip to the Premier League reigning champions and at the time, top of the table Manchester United.
Leading up to Bruce taking his new side to where he played for so many years, United had won six and lost one of the seven fixtures to that point, and considering we were looking for a first victory at the Theatre of Dreams since 1968, it would be a tall order to collect maximum points.
But our odds improved when the Manchester United team-sheet was released, and it showed seven changes from the side that won their last fixture. Ferguson had decided to give key players a rest, with Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia all missing from the starting XI.
With United seemingly adjusting to a new look line-up, we took the initiative in the early exchanges and fully deserved to take the lead in the seventh minute through Darren Bent.
Cattermole, who was receiving universal praise regarding his early season form after joining the club in the summer from Wigan Athletic, zipped a ball into Darren Bent’s feet around twenty yards from goal in a central area, and after taking one touch to tee himself up, hit a low shot straight into the bottom corner to silence the home crowd with his seventh Premier League goal of the season.
After taking the lead, the Lads didn’t sit back and allow United to wrestle control of the game back, as described in the Guardian’s match report:
Encouraged by this success on a ground where they last won 41 years ago, Sunderland seized and kept the initiative, with Reid, Cattermole and Steed Malbranque bossing the midfield, where Paul Scholes suffered the rare indignity of substitution at half-time.
As they so often did under Fergie however, United rallied after the break and it took five minutes to get themselves back on level terms, but it did take something a little bit special to achieve it.
A cross from John O’Shea on the right appeared to but swung in behind Dimitar Berbatov, but somehow the former Spurs man acrobatically made contact with the ball through an incredible overhead kick that accurately found the bottom corner.
At this point in the proceedings at Old Trafford, opposing sides were expected to crumble like cheap biscuits in hot tea, but on this occasion, we did the opposite. Eight minutes after United levelled the game, we once again took the lead.
Andy Reid played a ball over the top from around ten yards outside of the box in an area just left of centre, which was floating towards Kenwyne Jones who had made a useful run into the box.
It appeared the ball was slightly too far and would be collected by Ben Foster in the United goal, but Jones had different ideas by rising and beating the United keeper in the air to put us back in front with just over half an hour on the clock.
A United onslaught was expected, but never came, as describe in the Guardian:
Rooney, characteristically persistent, responded with a couple of shots, one on target and one off, but Craig Gordon had remarkably little to do, such was the protection provided by Sunderland’s assiduous defence, from front to back.
With five minutes left on the clock, things got nervy. The catalyst was the second booking for Kieran Richardson, which meant he was sent off on his return to his former club. It was even more frustrating because the second yellow was for kicking the ball away and following the game Bruce described the act as “stupid”.
Until then the home side had lacked any ideas on how to break us down, but the extra man began to tell when the board went up to signal there would be four minutes of injury-time.
We were camped on the edge of our box surviving cross after cross, until the third minute of the allotted four when the ball fell to the feet of Patrice Evra just inside the box just left of centre. The French full-back managed to get a shot off while stretching, which resulted in a shot that was about to end up five yards wide of the post.
That was of course, until Anton Ferdinand, who had been instrumental in keeping United at bay all afternoon, lost his bearings and attempted to clear the ball, but simply diverted the ball into the bottom corner and past Craig Gordon.
It ended all-square, and although the point took us into the top six, it felt like a blow considering how close we were to claiming victory at Old Trafford.
What was that I hear you say? What was Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction to the Lads impressive performance at Old Trafford?
He skillfully took all of the attention away from the game by stating the referee for the game, Alan Wiley, simply “wasn’t fit enough”, which triggered a frenzy in the press-box as reporters modified their initial drafts to include the United managers comments.
Saturday 3rd October, 2009
Barclays Premier League
Manchester United 2-2 Sunderland
[Berbatov 50’, Ferdinand (OG) 93’ - Bent 7’, Jones 58’ (Richardson sent-off 85’)]
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Turner, A. Ferdinand, Richardson, Malbranque (McCartney), Cana, Cattermole, Reid (Henderson), Bent, Jones (Campbell) Substitutes not used: Fulop, Nosworthy, Da Silva, Healy
Manchester United: Foster, O’Shea, Vidic, Evans, Evra, Nani, Fletcher (Carrick), Scholes (Anderson), Welbeck (Valencia), Berbatov, Rooney Substitutes not used: Kuszczak, Brown, da Silva, R. Ferdinand