02/10/2009 13:08, Report by Ben Hibbs
United 2 Sunderland 2
United maintained top spot in the Barclays Premier League – even if it is only temporarily with Chelsea and Liverpool in action on Sunday – after a scrappy draw against Sunderland. But it could have been a lot worse for the Reds, who delivered their least convincing performance since losing at Burnley.
Darren Bent put the Black Cats in front on seven minutes, then Dimitar Berbatov hit back after the break with a stunning scissor-kick. But Sunderland regained the lead again through Kenwyne Jones, only for an injury-time leveller courtesy of Patrice Evra and a huge deflection off the heels of Anton Ferdinand.
Credit to Sunderland, who came and fought for every ball, passed it well, and took their chances. United, you can’t help but feel, played the get out of jail free card. The Reds’ aim was to extend the lead over Chelsea and Liverpool, and did that, only by one point rather than three.
Sir Alex Ferguson highlighted the strength of his squad before Sunderland’s visit, and he attempted to utilise that strength by making seven changes from the team that started Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Wolfsburg. In came Ben Foster, Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes, Nani, Dimitar Berbatov and Danny Welbeck, making only his second league start.
Typically autumnal conditions welcomed the teams at Old Trafford, a mixture of rain and sun in the hours before kick-off and, more tellingly, a swirling wind rattled around the inside of the ground. The game started at an almost leisurely pace for United - much too leisurely. If United needed a sign that this would be a difficult afternoon, it arrived after seven minutes. Sunderland’s front pair are a real danger, and Jones was involved in a well-worked build-up that ended with partner Bent finding the bottom corner of Foster’s net from 25 yards.
United’s passing and midfield play which was so prominent and