Warren Joyce made 2 changes to the young reds after their win vs West Ham United 2 weeks ago with Tyler Blackett coming in due to the terms of his youth loan with Birmingham City and Joel Pereira replacing Amos in goal after impressing throughout the course of the season. They came up against a Sunderland side occupying the dizzy heights of 3rd in the table and the opportunity to go top with a win; although the incentive for United of reaching that elusive 4th position (albeit with Liverpool and Chelsea having games in hand) with a comprehensive victory set up a scenario for 90 minutes of attacking football.
Both teams started the game positively with high pressing and quick passing dominating the opening 10 minutes without either keeper being tested. With 12 minutes gone Dixon was the first to be forced into action when a fluid United move saw Pereira cut the ball back to Petrucci whose low shot was well saved. Lingard scooped a good chance over the bar 2 minutes later after he was found by another marauding Janko run. This preceded a 5 minute spell of good play from United who were looking promising down the right hand side. The game then became a bit of a stalemate as United’s interchanging front 4 couldn’t break through a deep, defensive Sunderland line suggesting their positive start was a false-dawn as they looked set up to take a point. The absence of a typical no. 9 was starting to tell as none of the front 4 were able to engage the Sunderland back 2 for sustained periods.
Something special was going to be needed for a United victory and a moment of magic from Lingard in the 41st minute opened the scoring: intercepting a slack pass from Cartwright before creating space and smashing home from 22 yards. This helped to opened the game up as Pereira was forced into a good save when Laidler was picked out, unmarked, on the right hand side of the box.
United started the second half with renewed vigour continuing their fluid play from the first half. Petrucci came close again as he hit the woodwork in the 52nd minute; Rothwell being the creator after his determination and close control beat 3 opponents. United were really starting to play with a bit of swagger; Rothwell and Pereira particularly standing out. Lingard, James and Rothwell continued the bombardment of the Mackem’s goal ensuring that the Sunderland keeper was constantly on his toes.
Sunderland’s frustration at their lack of possession became evident as Ferguson and Holland were booked in quick succession, the latter provoking a series of handbags after Janko and Varela were fouled. As if this wasn’t enough, England U19 international James Wilson- benched due to a lingering illness- entered the field of play with 17 minutes to go and went on to show a few good touches.
Complacency crept in in the final 15 minutes with Sunderland finally managing to progress into the Red’s half. Indiscipline showed as an exposed Varela cynically took down the Sunderland winger. The resulting free kick cannoned off the post; a warning that Sunderland were yet to be defeated.
With 2 minutes to go it was United’s turn to be denied by the woodwork as a deflected Wilson effort was close to finishing the visitor’s off.
This was a largely impressive and commanding display from United, dominating a team who had gone throughout a game without scoring for the first time this season. Rothwell and Pearson were robust and dynamic, Janko was very impressive up until his substitution and Keane & Lingard reinforced the growing consensus that they deserve first team action before the end of May. Momentum seems to be building nicely for a final assault on the top 4.
Manchester United 1
J. PEREIRA; VARELA, M. KEANE, BLACKETT, JAMES; PEARSON, ROTHWELL; JANKO (73), PETRUCCI, A. PEREIRA (83); LINGARD⚽️. subs: ROWLEY (83), GOLLINI, WILSON (73), McNAIR, RUDGE.
DIXON; CARTWRIGHT (54), EGAN, HARRISON, FERGUSON; OLIVER, LAING; MITCHELL, HONEYMAN (58), HOLLAND (78); LAIDLER. subs: McNAMEE, BURKE, LAWSON (58), GOOCH (78), SMITH (54).