SUNDERLAND 1, MAN UNITED 1
Manchester United’s performance at Sunderland reinforced new manager Louis van Gaal’s earlier prophecy that it will take a “miracle” for his side to win the Barclays Premier League title.
The Reds were distinctly ordinary for the second successive week against opponents who won’t be featuring in the quest for silverware.
And United’s Dutch manager admitted his side must improve its passing, create more in the final third and also defending at set pieces.
Van Gaal also believed United could have had two penalties following challenges on Robin van Persie and Ashley Young explain that both players were caught in the penalty area.
He said: “I have seen the images and van Persie was already falling, but the defender took a risk tackling. Ashley Young was also touched by an opponent in the 16-metre area..
“I don’t want to talk about penalties but the passing of Manchester United which has to improve. The penalties we cannot change as some referees give them and some don’t.”
Just as was the case with the opening-day home defeat by Swansea City, United again lacked spark as they again looked a side in need of a major overhaul.
And clearly the imminent signing of Real Madrid’s Argentine star Angel Di Maria cannot come quickly enough along with others to reinforce a squad which is clearly lacking in strength to make a genuine challenge for a top-four spot.
Juan Mata gave United the lead at the Stadium of Light, but the Black Cats hit back with a goal from Jack Rodwell as the disappointing game ended in stalemate.
There were recalls for Robin van Persie and Antonio Valencia who were given extended breaks following the World Cup as well as for Tom Cleverley.
Ander Herrera was ruled out through injury while Javier Hernandez and Jesse Lingard were the two other changes from the side beaten at home by Swansea on the opening day of the Premier League season.
And it was Valencia who provided the assist for the goal which gave United a 16th minute lead. The wide man made a forward burst down the right before delivering a low cross to the far post for Mata to convert from four yards as he got goal side of Sebastian Larsson.
Sunderland equalised on the half hour with a goal from Jack Rodwell, the former Manchester City midfield man who was making his home debut.
Rodwell rose to meet a Larsson corner to find the net with a header from six yards low to the left of David De Gea.
There was a further setback just before half time when Chris Smalling limped off with a hamstring strain. And with the clearance for new Argentine defender Marcos Rojo not yet secured, Michael Keane was pitched in for a Premier League debut.
United made their two remaining changes midway through the second period as van Persie and Darren Fletcher were replaced by Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj as van Gaal looked for new attacking ideas.
But, if any side was going to triumph in the second half, it looked like the home side as Connor Wickham and Larsson both went close to securing all three points for the home side, though at the end nervous Sunderland twice contrived to almost hand United victory following defensive howlers.