It was a great afternoon at the office for the Red Devils, as they saw off Sunderland on a 3-1 win for the Boxing Day, but the scoreline is somehow misleading, as the Red Devils had to endure some pain before eventually seeing off the Black Cats at Old Trafford. It took them some time to break up the stubborn defense of Sunderland, but it was worth the wait to eventually see them come off with the 3 points, but unfortunately not with a clean-sheet.
United looked set to put the Black Cats to bed in the early minutes of the first half, but as eager as all fans were, the frustrations grew similarly on the pitch for the red side, as Sunderland refused to buckle, and instead could have found themselves in the lead. Blind clumsily brought down Anichebe near the box, and Van Aanholt’s resulting freekick saw De Gea at full stretch to keep the goal-bound ball out. Minutes later Mata was bundled over in the box at the other end, but the ref waved play on, and Sunderland took opportunity again at the other end to cause some mayhem, with De Gea somehow managing to keep the ball out in a foray of players in his box. United looked to be suffocating as the Black Cats pressured on, but the deliverance came thru Blind on the 39th minute. Rojo made a rare run forward, and picked Zlatan with a pass, the latter waited for Blind to make a run in the box to deliver a pass in return, and the left back made no mistake to put the ball into the far side to open the score, giving Zlatan his first assist of the season in the process. The most unlucky player of the first half had to be Pogba, as despite several attempts, he could not find the net, either thwarted by Pickford in goal, or seeing his shots flying wide.
The second half was United coming out all guns blazing as they looked to double the lead, but Sunderland held on. Zlatan had a couple of chances but failed to make a real impact, sometimes trying to be too zlatanesque, and sometimes showing some nonchalance, mostly when he was robbed of the ball by the defending players. United were creating chances but failing to score meant that they were still at the mercy of being caught up from a counterattack by Sunderland. We had to wait for the 82nd minute to see United make the break-thru, as Pogba collected a misplaced pass near the half-way line, and he darted towards goal before teeing up Zlatan, who waited until the last second when the keeper was already down to ground, to pick his spot and place the ball neatly in the net. United looked on fire from thereon, and Mkhitaryan produced a goal worth of the Boxing Day hype on the 86th minute, despite being clearly offside, but not signalled by the linesman. Zlatan drifted in a beautiful cross from the right hand side, and Mkhitaryan displayed a zlatanesque finish of his own with a flick from his trailing back-heel, almost in a scorpion-kick style, but although he was clearly offside, the goal was allowed to stand, may be the officials being mesmerized by what they saw at that time. United looked set to grab the 3 points, but the show was not over yet, this time Sunderland adding a touch of their own in added time. Rojo headed away the initial danger, but Borini chest-controlled the loose ball and unleashed an outrageous volley from about 30 yards out to leave De Gea as a mere spectator as the ball curled into the far right corner. United looked to add a fourth in the dying seconds, as Zlatan saw his freekick saved by Pickford, while a funny scene developed before that, as Pogba was clearly pleading with the striker to let him have a go instead, but it fell to deaf ears.
United still need to improve, mostly in finding the net when they are dominating the game, and in preventing others from finding theirs too easily as well, but the results are encouraging as they gather up the wins after a period of draws, and hopes are still alive for a Top 4 finish by the end of the season if they continue to deliver good results.