Sunderland denied by Butt's late leveller

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Manchester United last night ended the 20th century as they will start the 21st. Sir Alex Ferguson, though, will be hoping his team's trip to Rio will be slightly more successful than their first sojourn to the Stadium of Light on Wearside.

Manchester United last night ended the 20th century as they will start the 21st. Sir Alex Ferguson, though, will be hoping his team's trip to Rio will be slightly more successful than their first sojourn to the Stadium of Light on Wearside.

The Maracana, where the treble-winners begin their quest for the Fifa World Club Championship trophy a week tomorrow, could hardly be more daunting a venue than Sunderland's two-and-a-half-year-old home was for them last night. Peter Reid's team may have been stuffed 5-0 at Everton the day after Christmas but they were a different proposition on their home patch, even without the hamstrung Kevin Phillips once again.

Roared on by a record 42,206 crowd, they came within four minutes of consigning United to their third Premiership defeat of the season, Nicky Butt's late equaliser salvaging a point for the champions but not the three they required to regain top place from Leeds.

Sunderland had conceded just six goals in their previous 10 Premier League games at the Stadium of Light but could have hardly been feeling at their most secure at kick-off following the Boxing Day pounding. It was their heaviest defeat for three years - since a 5-0 festive-time stuffing administered by an Eric Cantona-inspired Manchester United at Old Trafford - but it took less than two minutes to remove any negative vibes from Wearside.

There were only 72 seconds on Jeff Winter's wrist-watch when Gavin McCann's crisp right-foot drive hit the back of Mark Bosnich's net, courtesy of Michael Gray's free-kick from deep on the left and Niall Quinn's inviting nod-down. It should have been 2-0 five minutes later, but from a Kevin Kilbane cross and another Quinn knock-down Paul Butler blazed a right-foot shot over the bar with Bosnich's goal at his mercy from 15 yards.

Jaap Stam and Mikaël Silvestre may have had only one man between them to mark but but Quinn had the measure of both of them - on the ground as well as in the air. In the 13th minute the big Irishman sent the Stadium of Light decibel count through the roof as he met a Kilbane cross from the left with a deft right-foot shot that looped over Bosnich and into the far corner of the net.

United, without Paul Scholes but with David Beckham and Ryan Giggs back in action and Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole on the field rom the start, took fully 20 minutes to gain a foot-hold. When they did find their rhythm, though, they quickly assumed control, with Keane at his prompting best in central midfield. It was a thumping long-range shot by the Irishman that sparked United to attacking life in the 23rd minute and within three minutes he had halved the deficit with a superbly-crafted goal.

A Beckham back-heel and a Cole flick prised open the left side of the Sunderland defence and from the angle of the six-yard box Keane beat Thomas Sorensen with a low, right-foot drive. It was his ninth goal of the season.

It was one-way traffic from then until half-time but, through a combination of good fortune and good defending, Sunderland managed to hold out, with McCann clearing a Keane header off the line, Yorke firing across an open goal and Sorensen tipping over a Cole header.

It was different after the break, as United struggled to regain their attacking momentum. Indeed, it took them until the 65th minute to threaten the home goal again, Sorensen parrying an angled Cole shot and Steve Bould clearing the danger.

Just as Sunderland looked like holding out, a disputed Gary Neville free-kick was diverted to Butt on the edge of the area and his low, right-foot shot saved a point for United.

Goals: McCann (2) 1-0; Quinn (13) 2-0; Keane (27) 2-1.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray; Summerbee, McCann, Rae (Williams, 62), Schwarz; Kilbane (Reddy, 90), Quinn. Substitutes not used: Oster, Roy, Marriott (gk).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Bosnich; G Neville, Stam, Silvestre, Irwin (Sheringham, 78); Beckham (Solskjaer, , 84), Keane, Butt, Giggs; Cole (P Neville, 89), Yorke. Substitutes not used: Berg, Van der Gouw (gk).

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).

Bookings: Sunderland: Rae, Makin, Schwarz. Manchester Utd: Stam, Giggs.

Man of the match: Quinn.

Attendance: 42,026.

Comments