Moments later, Berbatov latched onto Anderson’s pass, advanced deep into the area and thumped a low shot against the base of Gordon’s post. Anderson continued the assault on the woodwork five minutes later, curling a superb effort against the underside of the crossbar with Gordon helpless.
The Scottish stopper made his first save of the game soon afterwards, plunging smartly to his right and holding a low shot from Rooney after marvellous approach play from Berbatov and Park. The Bulgarian then shot powerfully into the side netting before Giggs drew a brilliant save from Gordon with an effort from just inside the area. Remarkably, Sunderland reached the 20-minute mark only one goal behind.
Steve Bruce moved to shore up his side’s porous midfield by dropping Darren Bent deeper as auxiliary cover for the exposed Cristian Riveros. The move ensured a 20-minute spell as cagey and stifling as the opening 20 had been buccaneering and flowing. The final five minutes of the half yielded a volley from Anderson which bounced wide, and a low near-post shot from Rooney which Gordon fielded comfortably.
Though Sir Alex would have seen little in his side’s first-half play worthy of criticism, he would undoubtedly have reinforced the pitfalls of profligacy. As if to emphasise them, Asamoah Gyan almost drew the Black Cats level within a minute of the restart. The Ghanaian unwittingly blocked Steed Malbranque’s shot, but lashed the rebound over from a tight angle.
A greater purpose and resolve was quickly evident in the visitors’ display. Anton Ferdinand hurled himself to block Anderson’s effort, but the defender was soon cursing his misfortune when another attempted block resulted in United’s lead doubling.