At the end of a game that was largely devoid of, United had moved to within two points of Manchester City (the Blues later beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 to restore a five-point advantage), albeit without displaying much of the artistry and adventure that has characterised so many of Sir Alex's sides down the years. The tributes came from elsewhere, though. A giant banner was hung the length of the Stretford End, supporters received commemorative tribute magazines and Sir Alex himself was paraded before Old Trafford before kick-off, entering the pith through a guard of honour formed by the two teams.
Then came a bombshell: the club, for the first time in the stadium's 101-year history, had taken the extraordinary step of renaming one of its stands after an individual. Fittingly, Old Trafford's grandest structure, the hulking 26,000-capacity North Stand, is now known as the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.
Of course, all this pomp and pageantry was just a prelude to the main event: a Barclays Premier League fixture the Reds were desperate to win. The contest began badly for Sunderland striker Conor Wickham, though, who appeared to twist his ankle in a freak off-the-ball incident before even 60 seconds had elapsed. His afternoon was over barely after it had begun.
Fellow Black Cats forward Nicklas Bendtner then forced the first save of the game, placing a low shot to countryman Anders Lindegaard's right. The Reds