Sunderland vs Manchester United match report: Rodwell cancels out Mata strike as difficult start continues for Louis van Gaal

Sunderland 1 Manchester United 1

Even in Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest years at Manchester United there were always failures and regrets among the two decades of trophies although one thing that was never tolerated for any length of time was mediocrity. Yet, in the post-Ferguson world, mediocre is what United specialise in.

Read more: Ferguson looms over Van Gaal at Stadium of Light

Afterwards, Louis van Gaal lamented what he called the lack of “creative passing” in a team that now has just one point from their first two league games, the same as the likes of Stoke City and Leicester City. But really, that was only part of a problem that seems to show no sign of relenting even as United prepare to break the British transfer record for Angel di Maria in the next few days.

As if the fee was not big enough, so Di Maria, if he does come, must shoulder much of the burden of reviving an institution which can no longer roll up at clubs like Sunderland and expect to overawe the locals with the usual mix of reputation and talent. Van Gaal lamented his squad’s injuries and he complained about the lack of chances they created but the bigger picture is surely a team that finds a thousand reasons to be fearful when boldness is required.

A draw at the Stadium of Light was an improvement on United’s previous league fixture against Sunderland – that defeat at the end of last season – but still this was a long way from the United of the last 20 years. In the last few minutes of the game, they roused themselves for a brief battering at the resolve of a tired home side which was more redolent of the old United than the insipid and uncertain performance that had gone before it.

Juan Mata puts Manchester United in the lead against Sunderland Juan Mata puts Manchester United in the lead against Sunderland

As for Sunderland, whose goalscorer was the former Manchester City man Jack Rodwell, this was another astute performance against United masterminded by Gus Poyet. He has faced United four times now in his short spell as Sunderland manager and lost only once, in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final last season – a tie that went Sunderland’s way on penalties.

Poyet said afterwards that his team had prepared to combat United’s 3-5-2 system and in the first half they had the best of it, only tiring after the break. For Wes Brown, the former United defender, and Lee Cattermole, this was the kind of game in which they thrived. Cattermole closed down a United midfield that was absurdly slow, while Brown kept Robin van Persie quiet right up to the moment he was substituted after the hour.

Read more: Di Maria has said his goodbyes - Ancelotti
Di Maria factfile
Van Gaal has gone from 'king to devil'

United’s goal scored after 17 minutes by Juan Mata was the first time they got behind Sunderland’s defence. It was hard to remember too many occasions when they did it subsequently.

It was breath-taking at times how vulnerable United looked when one considers it was 15 months ago the club were carrying the Premier League trophy around Old Trafford for the 13th time. The defence of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Tyler Blackett looks like something Ferguson might have tried at the end of the season when the title was already in the bag – but this is supposed to be the future for United.

Louis van Gaal watches his team draw 1-1 with Sunderland Louis van Gaal watches his team draw 1-1 with Sunderland  

There were times when the most assured of the trio looked like Blackett, at just 20. For much of the early stages of the first half Jones and Smalling in particular found themselves bullied by Connor Wickham who is adept at making the space for himself and then lets himself down when it comes to the finishing.

Ashley Young set the tone in the first minute with a disastrous ball back towards his own goal that was straight into the path of Wickham. United managed to see off the danger on that occasion but at other times they found it impossible to stop Wickham create the space for a shot, like in the 27th minute when he eased Jones out of the way. On the right side, Will Buckley, signed from Brighton, had the pace to make life difficult for United.

 

It was Buckley who won the corner from which Sunderland scored their equaliser on 30 minutes, a free header for Rodwell after he had lost his marker Antonio Valencia. Before then United had taken the lead with their first decent attack, Valencia getting beyond Patrick van Aanholt and crossing low to the back post where Mata was completely unmarked and able to nudge the ball in.

Otherwise, it was worryingly ponderous and sideways from United. In that respect they looked like England at this summer’s World Cup finals with Wayne Rooney reprising his role as a frustrated self-appointed midfielder dropping ever deeper to try to spark some life into the team. Tom Cleverley and Darren Fletcher have played useful supporting roles in better United sides in the past but this time they could not give the team the direction it needed.

Just before half-time, United lost Smalling to an injury he had been struggling with and he was replaced by Michael Keane. Van Gaal persevered with the three-man defence, none the less, and while United looked less shaky they were no more cutting in attack. Young threw himself over Brown’s reluctant challenge in the Sunderland area after the hour and was booked for his trouble.

Van Gaal objected to the decision to book Young, though he did not say definitively that it should have been a penalty – rather that some referees might have given it. He also suggested that an earlier tackle on Van Persie that was made by Santiago Vergini could have been a penalty although that claim looked even shakier.

Poyet simply said that Young’s reputation had landed him in trouble. The Sunderland manager is evidently still not happy about his club’s summer transfer business, complaining about leaks when he was asked about the possibility of Salomon Kalou signing. As for Buckley, impressive in the first half, Poyet reminded everyone that he cost “£2.5m, while some people are spending £30m, £40m, £50m”.

The introduction of Adnan Januzaj and Danny Welbeck leant some impetus to United’s late surge in search of a winner. That they spent much of that period glancing over their shoulder in fear of Sunderland doing the same tells you much about how far this team have to go.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most