Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United put in a performance in keeping with their season as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to relegation-threatened Sunderland.
United dominated possession with 62 per cent, as they have done all season, but they rarely threatened Sunderland’s leaky defence and a goal from new recruit Wahbi Khazri and an unfortunate own goal by David de Gea handed Sam Allardyce’s men a huge three points – only their fourth home win of the season.
The pressure on under-fire boss Van Gaal is likely to crank up once again and we can expect another week of tabloid talk detailing when Jose Mourinho will be taking the United reins.
United dominated the early proceedings, but Sunderland, who hit 21 shots on goal, struck first with a 40-yard free-kick from the left from Khazri which deceived the United rearguard and keeper De Gea and flew into the corner.
The January recruit from Bordeaux failed to get much height on his whipped in delivery, but after Jermain Defoe jumped over the ball it evaded De Gea to put the Black Cats ahead with just three minutes on the clock.
Anthony Martial pulled the visitors level with on 39 minutes after a brilliant close-range dink over Vito Mannone. Martial powered into the area on the left and when his low ball was touched out to the edge of the box, Juan Mata’s crisp strike was saved by a diving Mannone, but Martial was following up to clip in the equaliser.
But with 10 minutes remaining the hosts went back in front went new boy Lamine Kone lost his marker Chris Smalling and headed past De Gea from Khazri’s right-wing corner. His effort though was cleared off the line by Martial only to hit De Gea for the keeper to be credited as an incredibly harsh own goal.
33 – Man Utd have scored fewer goals after 26 league games than in any season since 1989-90. Shy.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 13, 2016
It was the Black Cats’ first league victory over United on Wearside since March 1997 and left a crowd of 41,687 with fresh belief that Allardyce can lead the club to safety, while the visitors’ hopes of a top-four finish suffered a major blow.
At the end of a difficult week for both managers for vastly different reasons, it was Allardyce’s face which broke into a smile with just three minutes gone after full-back Matteo Darmian had upended opposite number Patrick van Aanholt.
Khazri curled the resulting free-kick into the penalty area and although Jermain Defoe failed to make contact, the ball skipped off the surface and evaded David de Gea’s outstretched arm before nestling inside the far post.
Sunderland maintained the pace as Khazri led Darmian a merry dance in the early stages, and it took a vital challenge by Chris Smalling to prevent Defoe from extending his side’s lead after Lee Cattermole had found him inside the box with an 11th-minute pass.
United belatedly responded, but without creating meaningful chances, and they survived penalty appeals when Khazri’s 26th-minute drive struck Morgan Schneiderlin’s arm, and the Tunisia international fired high and wide after being played in by Defoe two minutes later.
The visitors mustered their first attempt on goal 14 minutes before the break when Juan Mata steered a first-time effort from Wayne Rooney’s pass straight into keeper Vito Mannone’s midriff, but having lost Darmian to injury, they got themselves back on level terms with six minutes of the half remaining.
Mannone got down well to his right to push away Mata’s effort, but the ball fell nicely for Martial, who clipped it expertly from a tight angle over the Italian and into the net.
Defoe was almost presented with an opportunity to restore the Black Cat’s lead when Cattermole’s 47th-minute shot was only half-blocked and almost dropped into his path, and they were appealing for a penalty – again in vain – when John O’Shea’s 50th-minute header from Khazri’s corner appeared to striker Rooney’s raised hand.
Sunderland were dominating once again and had it not been for Daley Blind’s brilliant block, Defoe would have put them ahead from Van Aanholt’s cross four minutes later.
De Gea kept United level with 61 minutes gone when he blocked Dame N’Doye’s shot with his right boot after Cattermole had picked out the striker’s run, and Khazri forced the Spaniard to save from a swerving free-kick after he had been tripped by substitute Donald Love.
De Gea had to tip Kone’s stinging drive over five minutes later as an end-to-end encounter entered its final stages, but there was nothing he could do to stop the same man eight minutes from time when he met Khazri’s corner with a powerful downward header that ended up in the back of the net.