United remain without an away win in the Premier League, but can take some solace from a share of the spoils after locking horns with a fired-up Sunderland side at the Stadium of Light.
Steve Bruce's Black Cats dominated the first period and ought to have been ahead by half-time, but a marked improvement in United's display after the interval yielded close calls for Nani and substitute Dimitar Berbatov, rendering a draw the fairest result.
The Reds have now drawn all four away games in this season's Premier League campaign and remain two points behind leaders Chelsea, who host Arsenal on Sunday.
As he sought to close the gap on the reigning champions, Sir Alex Ferguson shuffled his pack - particularly in attack. Michael Owen and Kiko Macheda started, while Berbatov dropped to the bench after a draining shift as a lone striker at Valencia. Ji-sung Park and Michael Carrick both missed the squad entirely as Paul Scholes returned ahead of schedule from injury. John O’Shea replaced Patrice Evra at left-back, with the Frenchman held in reserve on the bench.
The United manager could be forgiven wariness over his side’s freshness after the efforts expended in bringing three points home from Spain; the Reds’ record in post-Champions League games warranted serious consideration. Last season, such fixtures accounted for five of the Reds’ seven Premier League defeats. Four-fifths of that quintet came after European away trips.
Not that Steve Bruce’s side needed encouragement to lay on a warm welcome for one of the Premier League’s big-hitters. Manchester City and