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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future