Sunday, May 2, 2010
Sunderland 0 Man Utd 1
MANCHESTER UNITED never give up. Never believe any cause is lost and all hope is gone.
That is why they have won so many trophies under Alex Ferguson.
Yet even they looked a forlorn and beaten side yesterday even though they won 1-0.
They did their bit by sinking Sunderland but the mortal blow had already been delivered at Anfield.
That was why they came out at the Stadium of Light with heads down and greeted victory as if it were a defeat.
They can produce something miraculous when their fate is in their own hands. But not when it is in the hands of someone else.
And you sense now it will take something miraculous for United to make history by winning a fourth Premier League title in a row.
Yes, Wigan did beat Chelsea at home this season. They have also won three and drawn two in the league on their travels this season.
Let us not forget, too, that it was a Wigan team under Steve Bruce whose unlikely draw at Chelsea two years ago proved crucial in the Blues losing the title to United.
These are straws to clutch at and, as Fergie says, anything can happen in football.
But the United boss knows, the players know and the fans know that it will take a muck-up of massive proportions for Chelsea not to win against Roberto Martinez's fragile Wigan side on Sunday.
Yesterday, Chelsea completed the double over Liverpool having already done the same to Arsenal and United.
So, are they really going to lose to Wigan at Stamford Bridge where they have dropped only five points from 54 this season?
Even Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has admitted his side have played some "rubbish" football as they have flirted dangerously with the drop.
Ferguson claimed two weeks ago that he had given up on the title race after United drew 0-0 at Blackburn on the back of a defeat at home to Chelsea and their exit from the Champions League.
He then said that Tottenham's win over Chelsea a fortnight ago had given him renewed hope. But that loss will surely prove to be the Blues' last of the season.
And, in the end, it will be United's Old Trafford defeat by Chelsea and more significantly the goalless draw at Ewood Park that has cost Fergie's men most dear.
They played both games without the injured Wayne Rooney. Both times Dimitar Berbatov failed to step up to the plate.
Yesterday, they at least gave themselves some hope, however faint, through a cracking winning goal by Nani and a superb defensive display that kept Sunderland dangerman Darren Bent out of the game.
The goal came on 28 minutes as Berbatov fired a ball into Rooney who did well to lay it off to Darren Fletcher.
He put it neatly into Nani's path and the Portuguese star slammed it into the far corner.
The celebrations were muted from all but Nani himself. Sunderland were not bad but only a long-range effort from Steed Malbranque troubled Edwin van der Sar.
United should have had more goals with Berbatov guilty of some awful misses. Just before the break the Bulgarian was put in on a similar angle to Nani, but with more time and space. Yet he screwed his shot wide.
Rooney's frustration at all this seemed to show when he kicked out at Lorik Cana and got booked.
His mood will not have improved two minutes later when, from another of his crosses, Berbatov failed to connect with a point-blank header.
And that has been a big part of United's problem this season: Not enough support for Rooney in the goalscoring department.
The England striker has 34, Berbatov just 12 - none of them against a club in the top seven in the Premier League. Not good enough.
No combination of four United midfielders can top Chelsea's Frank Lampard, who hit his 25th of the season yesterday.
And if you add together the goals of every midfielder on United's books, it does not match Cristiano Ronaldo's 42 of two seasons ago.
Ah, yes. Ronaldo. United said they could cope without him, they would play more as a team rather than for one individual.
Some fans thought £80million was great business and they probably couldn't keep him any longer as he craved the move to Real Madrid.
But the truth is United are nowhere near as good without him.
They have lost seven games in the league this season, went out of the FA Cup in the third round and exited Europe in the quarter-finals.
The Carling Cup will hardly take pride of place in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet for a year.
So, it is back home for the finale against Stoke.
Tony Pulis' side have lost only six of their 17 away league games this season so victory is not a given.
But United should still win - the match that is, not the title.
As their body language suggested yesterday, the game really is up.