Sunderland put a damper on Ferguson's aura of invincibility

Sunderland 0 Manchester United 0

Sir Alex Ferguson's years of experience mean he can sniff out a dressing-room problem better than just about any manager in the world – and we are not talking about the toilet pipe that burst above their heads before this game. This is far more serious than a few ruined designer suits, because the weekend draw with Sunderland provided further evidence that United no longer inspire fear in the Premier League.

Gone are the days when teams outside the country's elite viewed a visit from United as little more than the opportunity to attract a capacity crowd, who would usually witness a disciplined performance from Ferguson's side, capped off by a late winner from the likes of Ronaldo.

Sunderland had every reason to eschew the customary inferiority complex displayed against United, because manager Steve Bruce has assembled an improving side that was unbeaten in four previous games against opponents including Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.

And, while United were unbeaten away from home, draws against Fulham, Everton and Bolton did not represent the start anticipated by Ferguson, who chose to rest Dimitar Berbatov, even though the striker is heading towards a two-week break because of the international fixtures.

A forward pairing of Michael Owen and Federico Macheda failed to trouble Sunderland, whose midfielders Lee Cattermole and Jordan Henderson possessed enough youthful energy to negate the influence of Paul Scholes.

At least there was an improvement in United's defence, which has been vulnerable recently in the league, Rio Ferdinand's link-up with Nemanja Vidic helping their side negotiate an awkward first half.

Bolo Zenden almost found a way past them when he struck a post, while goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar made a fine save from Steed Malbranque after Cattermole's pass exposed United's uncertainty.

The keeper was in a realistic mood after United's improvement in the second half helped them secure a point. "I think it was two points dropped and we have dropped too many points in away games," he said.

"It is good to get a clean sheet after getting one in Valencia on Wednesday, but we weren't really good enough in our offensive game to claim all three points.

"I was busy in the first half but you expect that with the way Sunderland play. They knew we had a game on Sunday and one on Wednesday and there was a lot of travelling involved getting back from Spain and getting up here.

"We were happy to come in at half-time at 0-0 and hope that Sunderland would die down a bit after half-time. In the last 15 minutes, we had a few chances but not enough to get the winner."

Ferguson's first reaction was to praise Sunderland; if it was an attempt to switch attention away from his own team's shortcomings, it failed. He cannot hide from the reality that, without a fully fit Wayne Rooney, this is no longer a team that will cause sleepless nights for their opponents. Ironically, this was an occasion when a Fergie excuse would have have been thoroughly justified, but he claimed the burst pipe which caused a 20-minute delay had little effect on his players.

Match facts

Sunderland 4-4-1-1: Mignolet; Onhuoa, Turner, Bramble, Bardsley; Elmohamady, Henderson, Cattermole, Zenden (Reid, 82); Malbranque (Gyan, 82); Bent. Substitutes not used: Gordon (gk), Riveros, Mensah, A Ferdinand, Da Silva.

Booked Turner.

Manchester United 4-4-2: Van der Sar; Rafael, R Ferdinand, Vidic, O'Shea; Anderson (Bebe, 80), Fletcher, Scholes, Nani; Macheda (Hernandez, 65), Owen (Berbatov, 46). Substitutes not used Kuszczak (gk), Evra, Smalling, Gibson.

Booked Vidic, Rafael.

Man of the match Malbranque.

Possession Sunderland 56% Man United 44%.

Shots on target Sunderland 8 Man United 4.Referee C Foy (Merseyside).

Match rating 7/10.

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
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

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness