MAN UNITED 1, SUNDERLAND 0.
IT was the supreme irony that the victory which marked Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th anniversary as Manchester United manager was secured by a face from the club’s past.
Stemming from a corner by a man of the United present, helped on by a rising star of the future and executed by a blast from the past, it brought the Reds a win they barely deserved.
With the game already two minutes into first-half injury time, Luis Nani fired his corner deep into the Sunderland six-yard box. Danny Welbeck nodded on from four yards out and Wes Brown, headed it into the far corner of the net.
Brown, one of Sunderland’s many former United contingent, had been made captain on a day when Ferguson’s landmark quarter-century in charge overshadowed the game.
Ferguson walked on to the pitch between a guard of honour from both teams – Brown, Kieran Richardson, Phil Bardsley and Sunderland boss Steve Bruce stirring memories of earlier times in the United manager’s Old Trafford reign.
The club unveiled the North Stand as the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and also announced the commissioning of a statue of him which will be ready for the start of next season.
But hopes that the Ferguson euphoria would manifest itself in a vintage performance by his team fell well short of expectations
Until Brown’s own goal, which had come after Sunderland goalkeeper Kieren Westwood saved well from Nani’s close range effort, the game had resembled more a damp squib than a roaring Bonfire Night firework spectacular.
The best effort in normal time had come from Sunderland when United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard tipped away Nicklas Bendtner’s 20-yard shot in the 14th minute.
United improved after the break and hit a purple patch midway through the second period. Nani’s 65th minute corner was flicked on by Welbeck at the near post and Hernandez saw his far post header cleared off the line by Richardson.
The Reds were denied again seven minutes later when Westwood produced a magnificent double save as he first tipped away Wayne Rooney’s fierce shot from just inside the box and then bettered that with a superb reflex effort to deny Patrice Evra’s point-blank shot from the rebound.
But perhaps the most bizarre incident came in the 67th minute with the case of the penalty that never was. Nemanja Vidic and Phil Jones went up either side of Ji Dong-Won as the South Korean strove to connect with Sebastian Larsson’s cross from the right.
A hand touched the ball inside the box and linesman Jake Collin signalled that it belonged to one of the United defenders when he flagged for a penalty. Referee Lee Mason agreed, but the decision was reversed after he consulted Mr Collin.The change of heart left Sunderland boss Bruce angered, but he later accepted that the decision had been correct.
“Ultimately, they got the right decision, but it took me four times on television to confirm it. The linesman had his flag across his chest to signal handball and a penalty. The referee took that information and went towards the penalty spot and he was then confronted with the United players.
“He guessed and he guessed right, but in the future that should not happen with a big decision.”
Ferguson said: “I could not believe it when the referee signalled for a penalty. You saw how the players reacted, but the right decision was made in the end.”
Turning to the earlier celebrations to mark his 25th anniversary in charge of the team, the United manager said: “It was an emotional occasion and I thank the club for what has been done. It was a fantastic honour for which I am really proud.
“I did not know it was going to happen and I am now glad it is all over.”
Former United captain Bruce paid his own compliment to his old boss when he said: “It is quite a tribute to name a stand after Sir Alex Ferguson, but it is fully deserved.”