When the fixture list came out for this season, this was the game that intrigued most Sunderland fans after the Wear-Tyne Derby fixtures.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane are two of the most iconic men in Manchester United’s recent history and their spat which led to Keane departing Old Trafford in 2005 was still fresh in the minds of fans and both clubs and football fans in general.
Questions were asked about how messers Ferguson and Keane would act around each other. To the disappointment of all, there was no drama and they were cordial if not still a little frosty with one another.
For the game itself, it was early into Sunderland’s return to the Premier League. Keane had spent a lot of money assembling a squad capable of keeping the team up. In truth, the money was not spent entirely well with only some of the players appearing capable of performing at this level.
To the credit of Craig Gordon, one of the better buys, he was the one man who could stand tall after this performance. Gordon’s saves throughout the game kept Sunderland in it until substitute and future Sunderland footballer, Louis Saha grabbed a goal from a corner to give Manchester United the victory.
With the game being chosen for TV and broadcast at the premier slot of Saturday at 5:30pm, many were tuning in expecting and hoping for fireworks. Truthfully, the game was as dull as dishwater.
It became more apparent as the season went on that Keane’s Sunderland intended to frustrate teams when they played away from home. Kenwyne Jones usually played as the lone striker with Michael Chopra playing on the right wing in a 4-5-1 formation.
In this game, it worked. United struggled to gain any fluidity or fluency to their play and whilst Sunderland never particularly looked like scoring throughout the game, they were good value to gain a point from it.
At half time, Ferguson made a change that ultimately was the difference between the two teams. Saha came on for debutant Anderson and his introduction gave United more zest in their attacking play.
Gordon made a very decent save from the Frenchman. He found a hole in the Sunderland defence before lashing a shot that was headed for the bottom corner, but the Scottish goalkeeper was more than equal in pulling off a stunning one-handed save.
From the corner, Vidic arrived late to volley over unconventionally. Whilst the pressure wasn’t relentless, United were certainly upping the ante and eventually got their goal through Saha.
Saha got his head first to the corner at the near post to nod it past Gordon with twenty minutes to go. It would be a goal that would frustrate the Scottish goalkeeper who appeared to jump off his line in a moment of madness to try to catch the ball. Ultimately, he got in the way of his own defenders in the midst of it all. It was frustrating considering the standard of performance that Gordon had put in up until that point.
Keane put on Liam Miller and Anthony Stokes in search of an equaliser but despite having a lot of possession, it never materialised.
After the game finished, Keane got a rapturous reception from the home crowd and he seemed happy with his team despite defeat.
When you lose to a set-piece it’s very frustrating. One lapse and you can lose the game.
I’m delighted with the overall performance. It would have been nice to test their goalkeeper a bit more but overall I’m delighted with the players’ efforts.
The United fans were fantastic - and the Sunderland fans were too - but we’re still leaving with no points.
It became clear that Sunderland’s home games were going to be key in their aim to stay up. The week after, they got a crucial win against Reading at home which made their start to the season look a lot more respectable with seven points from six games.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Eagles (Fletcher 66), Hargreaves, Scholes, Nani (O’Shea 84), Anderson (Saha 46), Tevez.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Carrick.
Goals: Saha 72.
Sunderland: Gordon, Nosworthy, McShane, Higginbotham, Collins, Leadbitter, Yorke, Etuhu (Miller 82), Wallace (Stokes 82), Chopra, Jones (Murphy 69).
Subs Not Used: Ward, Kay.
Booked: Leadbitter, Chopra.
Ref: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire).