United hail their special one

Teenage sensation comes off bench to score another improbable winner as Ferguson's men move three points closer
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Manchester United are hardly strangers to teenage sensations, but even by the high standards of the past, Federico Macheda is making a name for himself. One week on from his breathtaking debut against Aston Villa, Macheda came off the bench at Sunderland to score another improbable winner, one that takes United three points closer to a third consecutive League title. Sir Alex

Ferguson, relieved and thrilled at the result, described his 17-year-old Italian as “special”, writes Michael Walker.

Having seen Liverpool beat Blackburn at lunchtime to go top, and then Sunderland equalise at the Stadium of Light, Ferguson needed something. One minute after coming on for Dimitar Berbatov, Macheda provided it, and while at the time it appeared Macheda knew nothing about the Michael Carrick shot he deflected past Craig Gordon, Ferguson said other United players disputed that. “When [Sunderland] got the equaliser – maybe against the run of play – it puts you under pressure to make decisions about your changes,” Ferguson said. “Fortunately, I made the right one. He [Macheda] has something special about him. I haven’t seen the goal, but one of the players said he actually tried it, he side-footed it as it came to him. It’s that quick thinking goalscorers have. He has just got that instinct.”

When asked what instructions he gave Macheda, Ferguson said: “Nothing. He knows the role we want him to play, to penetrate in behind them. He wasn’t fazed by anything. He had a good 20 minutes.”

Paul Scholes gave United a 19th-minute lead but Kenwyne Jones’s equaliser caused Ferguson to make changes. He had rested Edwin van|der Sar, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano|Ronaldo. They will now be fresh for the Champions’ League quarter-final second leg against Porto.

Sunderland’s defeat edged them closer to the relegation places, only two points ahead of Middlesbrough, who beat Hull 3-1, and Newcastle, who drew 1-1 at Stoke last night. Alan Shearer, celebrating his first point as manager, complained that Stoke’s goal followed a corner that should not have been given. But he admitted: “I was more disappointed it was a free header|to score. We’ve given ourselves a chance again. There’s going to be many twists and turns before the finish.”