Manchester United vs Sunderland match report: Wayne Rooney scores twice but referee Roger East sends off Wes Brown instead of John O'Shea

Manchester United 2  Sunderland 0

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The Independent Football

Once again they won, once again they failed to impress: Manchester United’s season trundles on. Somehow it may yet yield a Champions League place. Wayne Rooney scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season – his first in the Premier League since Boxing Day – but even those bright highlights were overshadowed as once again, a poor refereeing decision dominated the afternoon.

With the score 0-0 and the game dull-dull, in the 63rd minute John O’Shea pulled back Radamel Falcao in the Sunderland box. It was a clear penalty, and as O’Shea was the last defender, it was inevitable that Roger East would produce a red card.

The referee duly did this, but showed it to Wes Brown. Brown looked dumbfounded, as did O’Shea, who could be seen protesting his guilt and Brown’s innocence. Even this plea from O’Shea, which was as long as it was earnest, could not move East to change his mind.

Two hours after the match, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited issued the following statement: “From his position Roger East believed he saw contact from John O’Shea and Wes Brown on Radamel Falcao. As he thought Brown made a foul on Falcao while he was in the act of shooting, he dismissed Brown. After the incident the match referee consulted with his team of officials but none were better placed to offer guidance.”

With the game’s rule-makers meeting in Belfast yesterday to discuss video technology – and to fudge a decision on its introduction – it should be noted that by the time Rooney stepped up to bury the penalty kick, it was the 66th minute. There were two full minutes between East’s whistle and Rooney’s goal, more than sufficient time to review the footage on video.

Angel Di Maria was taken off at half-time after a terrible performance

But as Sunderland’s manager, Gus Poyet, intimated, referees are now trapped by the system which oversees them. “They’re hiding,” he said of the system. “I think they need to be more honest.”

Poyet’s point is that referees have reached a Kafkaesque stage where a change of mind to get a decision correct seems worse than sticking to the original decision and getting it wrong. He added that Sunderland will contemplate appealing once they read the referee’s report.

“He [East] told the players there were two fouls, one committed by John O’Shea and one by Wes Brown,” Poyet said, his tone one of quiet disbelief. “He gave the Wes Brown one, so that’s why he was sent off.

“I don’t know what he saw. If the referee tells you he saw something that didn’t happen... we will analyse it.” The assumption that Sunderland will appeal is just that, however. They have a relegation scramble at Hull City on Tuesday night, and with Brown receiving a one-game suspension it might make tactical sense to retain the services of captain O’Shea, who was a contender for man of the match in the first half.

Wes Brown was wrongly sent off after John O'Shea fouled Radamel Falcao

East’s remarks to Sunderland’s players means that this is not quite a parallel with Andre Marriner mistaking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Kieran Gibbs last March. But it again brought attention on officials.

Louis van Gaal might not have minded that too much. Not only did the penalty alleviate the pressure on United, the controversy diverted some scrutiny from a performance that was bloodless in the first half and pale in the second.

United have taken the breath away at Old Trafford down the decades, but not quite in this manner. Unconvincing individually and collectively, United’s opening was a parade of errors. Chris Smalling, Danny Blind, Falcao, the list went on. Cooler finishing from Connor Wickham or Jermain Defoe would have meant suitable punishment.

The Theatre of Dreams shifted uneasily, but criticism was withheld until the 22nd minute. Then a United corner ended up with Jonny Evans passing the ball 40 yards back to David De Gea. “Attack, attack, attack!” boomed the Stretford End. When the cameras panned to Van Gaal, he appeared nonplussed. He was not alone.

Briefly, things got better. O’Shea diverted an Ashley Young shot on to the Sunderland crossbar, but the half petered out with much attention on the flimsy display from Angel Di Maria.

The record British transfer had a miserable 45 minutes before being removed. On went Adnan Januzaj, who improved the tempo.

“When a player is not in the match I have to do that,” Van Gaal said of Di Maria afterwards.

The Dutchman was on the verge of taking off Falcao when the hitherto anonymous striker controlled Ander Herrera’s cross and bore down on Costel Pantilimon. O’Shea’s arm on the shoulder was obvious.

Rooney fires home a penalty to make it 1-0

What followed was not, even the way Rooney took the kick, slotting it low when Van Gaal said he had advised aiming high.

Against 10 men, United relaxed and Sunderland were out on their feet by the time Pantilimon parried a Januzaj shot and Rooney nodded in the 84th-minute second. By then thousands had trudged out. They had seen another United victory, but they could not quite believe what they had just witnessed.

Manchester United: (4-4-1-1) De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Evans, Rojo; Di Maria (Januzaj, h-t), Herrera, Blind, Young; Rooney (Mata, 85); Falcao (Fellaini, 68).

Sunderland: (4-1-4-1) Pantilimon; Réveillère, O’Shea, Brown, Van Aanholt; Cattermole; Johnson (Fletcher, 81), Larsson, Gomez, Wickham (Graham, 67); Defoe (Vergini, 67).

Referee: Roger East.

Man of match: Cattermole (Sunderland)

Match rating: 3/10