Sunderland 0 Manchester United 1 match report: Sir Alex Ferguson lays the ghost of his darkest hour

A year ago there was gloom at the Stadium of Light as a helpless
Sir Alex heard City had snatched the title. Yesterday his side made
light work of preserving a 15-point gap

the stadium of light

One of the defining images of last season's dramatic finish to the Premier League was the sight of Sir Alex Ferguson on the Stadium of Light pitch as it registered (from the noise of a pocket of Sunderland supporters) that Manchester City had scored and Manchester United had lost the title.

A twitch, a question to a member of staff near him for clarification, a handshake and off he went down the tunnel, to briefly lick a wound then plot, with obvious intent, his team's response. For 90 minutes he had been a ball of energy, shouting orders at his players, checking the score at the Etihad Stadium with his backroom staff and, increasingly as the afternoon wore on, with a man from Sky.

It was the contrast yesterday that told the story of this season for his football club, and for the club he promised revenge on. For the majority of the second half Ferguson didn't even feel the need to stand in his technical area. There were times when it was empty, even devoid of Mike Phelan, who increasingly looks like the head of security at a nightclub, at least from the back. That is how easy victory was. That is arguably how comfortable this campaign has been. When the final whistle blew at Sunderland this time, the gap between United and City was 18 points, though City returned it to 15 later in the afternoon. Goal difference, so significant last May, does not matter now.

Like last season, the game finished 1-0. Like last season, it was a poor game. But this time, such was the superiority that Manchester United held over their hosts that there was a clear easing off the pedal at half-time. By then they were ahead. It did not take much to break the paltry resistance that Sunderland offered.

In the 27th minute Robin van Persie picked up the ball on the United left. Phil Bardsley, the Sunderland right-back, making his first start since January, stood off him. When Van Persie went on to his right foot, the defender still gave up too much space. Van Persie took the invitation, going back on to his favoured left and shooting towards goal. The shot clipped Bardsley, and as Titus Bramble instinctively stuck out his leg the effort, which on the replay appeared to be going wide, clipped the centre-half's right thigh and diverted past Simon Mignolet into the Sunderland goal.

Martin O'Neill called his side tentative in the first half. That was generous. He cannot crush what fragile confidence remains from an eight-game run that has yielded three points. Thus he focused on the second half. "It gives us something to take forward, very much so," he said. "It is not a false confidence. The players have put everything into the game. We chased everything down in the second half."

That said, it was the 62nd minute before Ferguson felt the need to walk into his technical area after the interval. Even then, it was to check on the health of his goalkeeper, David de Gea, who had clashed heads with team-mate Nemanja Vidic. He stayed there for 20 minutes while Sunderland built up a fairly predictable head of steam. Ferguson was back in his seat by the time the home side had their first shot of the afternoon. There were 28 seconds remaining of the 90 when Connor Wickham, a 76th-minute substitute, shot tamely at De Gea. It sparked life from United. Alex Buttner and Van Persie both went close to extending the lead.

"It was a battling performance by the players," said Ferguson. "We have to win four games now, I think, but it's important to focus on our next League match, which is Manchester City at home. Courage got us through in the second half. It was important to win because we go into the Manchester City game next week with at least a 15-point lead. It was a wicked hit by him [Van Persie]. It was a fantastic shot.

"I don't know if it was going in, but it was certainly a difficult ball for any keeper to handle. We have won 25 of our first 30 games and I think that's a record, which is all down to the efforts of the players." Ferguson pointed all of those players towards the travelling supporters, high in the Upper North Stand, when referee Kevin Friend blew the final whistle. There was a handshake for O'Neill. There were handshakes for everyone on the visiting bench. There were handshakes for some Sunderland players. There were waves to the United supporters. There were handshakes for all of the officials, even a joke shared with Friend. Ten-and-a-half months after he last stood on the pitch at the Stadium of Light, Ferguson had righted a wrong.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas