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Buttner Stars As Sloppy United End O’Neill’s Sunderland Reign

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An understrength Manchester United beat a Sunderland side at The Stadium of Light on 30th March 2013. Nothing surprising there but what did we learn?

Firstly we learned that Sunderland are a team in crisis.

Surely the minimum expectation from any side playing the Champions elect is effort, and yet they were largely short on that as they capitulated to a United team with one eye on the FA Cup game against Chelsea. Adjectives that come to mind are woeful, pathetic and embarrassing. The Roker roar would have booed this bunch of pretenders.

The Stadium of Light is a dark place these days, a crowd deserving of success watched a team without a trophy for 40 years simply roll over to the extent that one weak effort on target in the 89th minute was all they could muster. Martin O’Neill is a manager I admire but whatever has he done to this team. How long will he have to wait for another job after his sacking?

Their best player was John O’Shea who seemed to care, but couldn’t drive his teammates to show they felt the same. It was hard to see a player worthy of the shirt playing for the home side, even their bad tackles were accidents and one in particular could have hurt our best player on the day.

With Wigan on their annual roll toward a Houdini like escape, Sunderland could go down, and on this performance they deserve to get relegated.

Last year the home fans laughed at United as the title was ripped from our grasp at the last moment. We beat them but they were safe, and so they mocked us. This season we beat them again, our fans mocked them but it wasn’t fun. They have lost their pride and it’s all rather sad to see.

By contrast United fielded players needing to recover form. It was almost as though Sir Alex Ferguson chose that as the selection criteria.

David De Gea was his usual self. He had little to do but what he did was mixed. Poor kicking twice put his own team in trouble and then banging heads with Nemanja Vidic proved a bad idea as he gave away 6 minutes of injury-time lying on the deck. He hardly used his hands in the entire game so not much to say there. An unconvincing day all round!

The back four also had a mixed day. Rafael looked to have strained his groin stretching for a bad pass on the right wing and limped off. Vidic also had a day in the wars with a cut mouth and a bang on the hip, but otherwise was his usual warrior self. Chris Smalling is increasingly assured as was Jonny Evans but Alexander Buttner starred for United.

The left-back gave a very good account of himself as he replaced Patrice Evra and did everything right. Strong in attack and defence he tormented Sunderland and could have scored twice. Top marks for the new boy.

In midfield Michael Carrick was imperious. He dominates the weak teams and destroyed Sunderland through the middle. It’s only against the very best that the lack of a partner of equal, or better, quality exposes him. Against teams like Sunderland he is a giant.

Anderson by contrast just doesn’t do it for me. I want him to be good but only a few League Cup games have impressed me. He just doesn’t do enough. I can’t see Sir Alez having much more patience with the boy.

Our wingers were also not in form; Antonio Valencia has been poor this year and showed it again today. He isn’t anyway near the player of last season. Ashley Young is also in poor form and so the supply line to the willing but ineffective Shinji Kagawa and the classy but out of form Robin van Perfect was erratic.

United did enough, completed over 9 hours of clean sheets, took the 3 points and hardly broke a sweat in doing so.

As an exercise in winning the league this was as professional as it comes. As a game in which De Gea, Van Perfect, Kagawa, Anderson, Young and Valencia found some form this was an exercise in futility. As a spectacle this was like a bully beating up a weakling.

Manchester United only have to avoid defeat against Manchester City to have the league won.

But the English Premier League needs better teams than Sunderland to retain its crown as the best league in the World because this was not an exciting contest by any measure!

By Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve