John McCormick writes: I wasn’t surprised at Ndong’s error but thought Denayer’s was even worse. Perhaps it was tiredness, perhaps just someone failed to move into a space when he expected otherwise. Whatever, those mistakes cost us dear as without them it would have been 1-1, thanks to a goal by Borini. Or would it? Did Man Utd always have enough in reserve to hold on once they’d opened the scoring? Over to Pete Sixsmith, who was there, for an unbiased opinion:
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart,
The very next day, you gave it away.
This year, to save me from tears
I gave it to Bradley Lowery”
As Manchester United sailed relatively serenely to a 3-1 win, the Sunderland supporters in the corner made it clear to the die-hard Mancs, hangers on from Bristol and Bridlington and foreign tourists clad in match day scarves, that there are clubs who draw their support from deep within their own community, as they sang a fitting George Michael song to pay tribute to a boy who has won the hearts of the North East.
It was a lovely moment and whether we get the chance to sing it at Old Trafford next season or whether it will ring out over the terraces at Molineux, Ashton Gate or Griffin Park depends very much on whether we can ratchet up the level of performance a couple of notches for the remainder of the season.
We weren’t too far off things in this one. We defended diligently, harried and chased and tackled in midfield and worked hard up front for any scraps that were going. United, for all their silky skills and sensational superstars did not put the game to bed until nine minutes from the end and that came courtesy of a howler by Didier Ndong. Allowing the outstanding Zlatan Ibrahimovic a clear run at goal is not advisable.
I have a bit of time for the Swede. I read and enjoyed his book and he is a very good footballer. Imperious and with a degree of self-confidence that is way up in the Kelvin scale, the fact that we get to see him is as good a reason as any for wanting to stay in the Premier League. It is all well and good winning games in the Championship, but who really wants to say
“Yes, I saw that Nakki Wells yesterday. He was a good player.”
There is still a good chance that that is what we will be saying next year. Although we did not disgrace ourselves a la Swansea, we did make errors that United were able to convert and a better side, a West Brom or an Everton might have prevented them.
The errors lead to goals. After forty one minutes of good, solid defending, we buckled. Ibrahimovic had spent much time out on the right where Billy Jones had been targeted. Bolstered by some sterling work from Kone and Djilobodji, the threat had been handled well, but there is more to United than Zlatan. Daley Blind made a good run into the box which was not picked up and the great man played in a slide rule pass which the Dutchman converted.
It was so frustrating. We had done well up until then. Both centre defenders looked solid. The full backs defended well and were helped out by an energetic Borini and a boisterous Anichebe. Larsson, Denayer and Ndong were tenacious and Defoe was always available.
The Special One paid Jermain the ultimate compliment by making sure that three players congregated around him whenever he had the ball and had we had a midfield player who had the nous and the energy to support him, we may have been able to take advantage of the gaps that were left.
But we haven’t and this is where our failings lie. For all the hard work and genuine graft that goes into our game, there is not one player who can open up a defence with a pass or a run like those we saw from Herrera and Pogba. We know what Larsson does and Denayer is effective playing in front of the back four. The enigma is Ndong.
I thought he did well up to the sixty minute mark. He is there to pick the ball up and move it on and when he plays short passes he does so quite effectively. What he cannot do is play a pass that puts Borini or Defoe in on goal. Nor can he shoot, much preferring to move the ball sideways rather than forwards.
His other problem is that he appears to lose concentration after seventy or so minutes. That is what happened here. He was given a poor ball by Kone, but he tried to take on Ibrahimovic and was found lacking. Down he went, on went Zlatan. Ndong stayed where he was on the ground while Zlatan stroked home the match winning goal. Ndong got up looking down at the ground while Zlatan saluted the Old Trafford faithful who had been woken up from their post-Christmas nap. Potential lost out to quality.
I was texting when Mkhitaryan produced his alleged stunner and have yet to bother to watch it on TV or whatever other facilities are available. If it were offside, it shouldn’t have counted and all it does is to take the shine off the sublime volley that Borini produced to reduce the deficit.
We are better off than we were last season when we lost at Everton but we had the January window coming up then. Allardyce did well in it whereas Moyes will have little opportunity to pick up a creative midfield player and another forward in case Defoe is injured or heaven forbid, leaves.
But really, it was the tributes to Bradley Lowery and George Michael that stood out on a day when we just about stayed in contention with the clubs above us. We have to show similar resilience and more fortitude at Turf Moor on Saturday and at the Stadium of Light on Monday. I see Jürgen has begun to get his excuses in early for that one.
Ha’way The Lads.