Manchester United delved into their much-used box of late comebacks to rescue a point against Sunderland. Two weeks after Michael Owen's last-gasp winner against Manchester City, Anton Ferdinand could not get out of the way of an off-target effort from Patrice Evra to grab United a point and deprive the Black Cats of their first Old Trafford win since 1968. In truth, it lacked the thrill factor of a fortnight ago. And so poor was United's general performance that questions are bound to be asked about their ability to retain their Premier League title. On the back of an eight-match winning run, facing opponents who had not won at Old Trafford for more than 40 years and managed by a man in Steve Bruce who was unable to boast even a solitary success against his old boss in 12 previous attempts, it was expected to be a stroll. But Sunderland were the ones who adapted to the blustery conditions quicker. Indeed, it could have been argued United did not adapt at all. Rare are the times an opposition goalkeeper comes to this ground and gets through an entire half without having to make a save. But this was one. With teenager Danny Welbeck handed only his second Premier League start, a tentative approach from one flank was to be expected. Maybe the same could also be said of Nani given his dismal display at Stoke seven days previously. The Portugal international was no better today, and this time Ryan Giggs was not on the bench to bail him out. And, in Darren Bent, Sunderland boasted a man at the top of his game. When he made the quick dash down from Bolton, England coach Fabio Capello might not have been expecting to spend half-time thinking about whether Bent should be in his squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Ukraine and Belarus. Yet, had it not been for his decision to hand over penalty duties to Kenwyne Jones at Sunderland last week, he would now be top of the scoring charts. And what a fine effort his seventh of the season was as Sunderland took the lead in only the seventh minute. He got far enough away from John O'Shea during a lengthy Black Cats build-up to have room to turn away from the Irishman when Lee Cattermole played the final pass. The finish was inch perfect, giving Ben Foster no chance. Replacing Paul Scholes at the break was a bold statement by Ferguson, which triggered an instant response. Nani was a suddenly a man inspired, twice causing confusion with direct runs, the second of which demanded a brave low save of Gordon to deny Wayne Rooney. The clearance came straight back out to O'Shea, whose curling 51st-minute cross was perfectly met by Dimitar Berbatov's overhead kick, which nestled in the bottom corner. As they say when the TV picture goes down, normal service was expected to resume shortly. Instead, United conceded again. Foster, and no doubt Ferguson, who had already been incensed by a couple of Alan Wiley's decisions, will doubtless feel Jones fouled the United keeper as he rose to meet Andy Reid's cross just before the hour mark. But Foster should have been stronger in the challenge. Instead, he was shoved aside to allow Jones to head into an empty net. Thrilling late comebacks from such positions are the stuff of Manchester United legend. Probably only this knowledge kept the hosts going as, even after Kieran Richardson's needless dismissal, it never actually looked like happening. Evra refused to accept second best, though, leaving Ferdinand to beat the ground in frustration.
* PA Sport