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Aug 24, 2014

Draw a fair outcome for Sunderland

Sunderland and Patrick van Aanholt held Antonio Valencia and Manchester United to a 1-1 draw on Sunday.

Wherever in the footballing world the hard-fought draw between Sunderland and Manchester United is discussed, the emphasis will be on another perceived United failure. Wherever, that is, except on Wearside and among Sunderland's smaller but no less passionate global fan base.

For the second successive week, Gus Poyet's side gained a draw, a result it would have taken, if offered, before kickoff. But Sunderland never looked second best and would have won had Connor Wickham not only played brightly but a little more sharply with his finishing.

- Macintosh: Three Points on Sunderland-Man United

Among those concerned with the Premier League elite, the home team's solid, disciplined display will be of less interest than United's glaring lack of quality.

Premature alarm bells will ring at the absence of a win for Louis van Gaal, quoted in the buildup as saying wrily that he had gone from hero to villain after arriving at Old Trafford from leading the Netherlands in an excellent World Cup campaign only to lose the opening home game to Swansea.

Robin van Persie was back, all 37 million pounds worth of Juan Mata was in the fray, and any side starting with Wayne Rooney carries threat. But there was little in United's performance to catch the eye, beyond the absurd and sadly characteristic dive that brought Ashley Young his second yellow card of the season and first -- let's be blunt -- for cheating.

Even the Mata tap-in that put United ahead after 16 minutes was grossly against the run of play. The lively Will Buckley, an unsung Poyet signing from Brighton making his home debut with Adam Johnson reportedly ill, slotted an inch-perfect pass that effectively gave Wickham an enticing one-to-one with David de Gea. The striker's control was poor, his shot was weak, and United went straight to the other end where Mata scored easily from Antonio Valencia's low cross.

SunderlandSunderland
Manchester UnitedManchester United
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It may be a measure of Poyet's progress at Sunderland that his team came back so well from this setback. Last season, it would probably have gone on to lose.

But Sunderland went straight back on the offensive. Buckley continued to tease Tyler Blackett as if old-fashioned right-wingers were suddenly back in fashion. He won the corner that Seb Larsson placed impressively on the head of Jack Rodwell, and Sunderland were level.

Rodwell, still not fully fit, was again withdrawn after about an hour. But the goal will fire him with confidence after his ponderous Sunderland debut at West Brom eight days earlier.

While a draw was ultimately a fair outcome, victory would not have been ludicrously flattering. Wickham had at least one further opportunity to put Sunderland ahead. There were a few nervous moments to endure toward the end as United pressed for a winner, but almost all the real scares in the Sunderland area were created by defensive slips, quickly covered, rather than attacking flair.

Louis van Gaal's impact at Manchester United has proved to be minimal so far, but his team is not yet complete.

Van Gaal will see better things from United this season, once new signings arrive or slot into position. Blackett's personal battle with Buckley was interesting and certainly not one that went entirely in the winger's favour, and Michael Keane played adequately when brought on for Chris Smalling as United reverted to a more conventional back four formation.

But it is difficult to see these as the men on whom United's revival will be constructed. The fact that LVG felt the need for radical defensive change before halftime will raise some eyebrows.

For Poyet, this was a match to offer genuine promise that this season will not be remotely as difficult as the last one, when such heroics as a win at Old Trafford were needed to escape from the drop zone.

His team tired toward the end and might have been punished by a United side more in its stride, but it had done enough to suggest points will come. Equally, the Uruguayan coach will know that two creditable draws from the opening games will look a lot less encouraging unless those points keep coming at QPR next weekend.

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