Routine win for United as Vidic returns

Posted by Mark Payne

Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty ImagesWayne Rooney celebrates after scoring the third goal of the afternoon in Manchester United's commanding 3-1 win over Sunderland.

Events elsewhere this weekend bring into sharp focus the more important things in life. A game of football, and the various spats between groups of fans or players, seems of little importance given this wider context. Manchester United and Sunderland lined up at Old Trafford with all 22 players wearing black armbands in recognition of the dreadful tragedy in America.

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Over the years, Sunderland have been extremely obliging opponents to United. They were kind enough to let Eric Cantona score one of his cockiest goals against them and have conceded a hatful to the Mancunians on a few occasions. The phrase 'routine United victory' was perhaps invented for afternoons such as these. It seems such a shame. Sunderland are a great football club, a one-team town with a proud history and solid supporters. Why they don't punch higher up the table seems strange to me. One day they will get their alchemy right. Not today apparently.

Wayne Rooney started, despite his reported illness and began by playing some terrific quarterback-type passes around. He seems to relish picking ambitious passes from deep and appears very happy playing alongside Robin van Persie. Their understanding can't be disputed with a truckload of goals in games when they have started together.

United opted for an old-fashioned 4-4-2 line-up, perhaps in recognition that Martin O'Neill is also a student of the old school. Nemanja Vidic, the beast, was back on the bench and it was nice to see United weren't rushing him into the side like they tried to at the start of the season. He had to settle for intimidating the Sunderland players at kick-off from the sidelines. It actually seemed to work.

United probed the Sunderland side for weaknesses, manufacturing most of their attacks down the right. It didn't take long for one to bear fruit, but for variety's sake it came down the left flank. Ashley Young showed great persistence and could've dived several times but kept going. There is hope for him yet. His cross found that man van Persie. After only 17 league games can we start calling him an Old Trafford great? What a player.

Shortly afterwards Tom Cleverley fashioned a curling finish for himself and United had two. With less than 19 minutes gone you could've been forgiven if you'd felt a twang of sympathy for Sunderland, a United rout seemed on the cards.

They are far from infallible though, and as Sunderland pushed forward they caused a couple of jitters in United's defence. To their great credit, Sunderland plugged away and enjoyed a decent period of play shortly before and after halftime. James McLean came reasonably close as a result of pressuring Rio Ferdinand and a spell of corners exposed United's lack of solidity at the back. The home side's dominance was never in doubt for long though.

United absolutely should've finished this game off earlier. Rooney didn't have his most lethal afternoon but combined cheekily with van Persie to net the third. Sir Alex Ferguson leaned forwards and tapped Vidic on the shoulder.

There was a massive cheer as Vidic's name was read out before the game and an even bigger one when he actually came onto the pitch. Just as things started to look rosy for United, they conceded and then brought on Ryan Giggs to join Paul Scholes in the centre. A rumour went around the stands that Fergie would have brought on Brian McClair if he'd had any substitutions left. The rest of the game made Sunderland look half-decent.

Even without a clean sheet, Fergie will surely start seeing the wisdom of playing a settled team. Less jiggery-pokery with the line-ups is obviously to the players' benefit. This team might lack the ruthlessness needed when it really counts, but they have shown they have class when required. However, for a club with the stated ambition of improving on last year's goal difference, they won’t get many better chances than this.

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