SUNDERLAND’S game against Manchester United, as has so often been the way this season, was another case of so near, yet so far.
We didn’t play badly, especially in the first-half and can take a lot of pluses out of the game.
But we failed to get the one thing that really matters most: points.
Yet again, we end a game with nothing and no matter how many pats on the back the team gets for a battling performance it doesn’t alter the fact that we are still rooted to the bottom of the table and starting to get cut adrift.
When Sunderland went in at half-time leading and with the fans’ applause ringing in their ears, it was fully deserved.
The sheer effort of the team and the football they played in the first 45 minutes was recognised by the fans and, but for a top drawer save by David de Gea from Emanuele Giaccherini’s (pictured right) header, we might even have had a two-goal lead.
The second-half though proved to be a more difficult challenge.
United got their act together and once they did and as soon as they equalised it was always likely they would get a winner and so it proved.
Sunderland’s high intensity and high energy game that proved so productive in the first half was always going to be difficult to maintain for the full 90 minutes.
And certainly in the last 20 minutes they noticeably ran out of steam.
The team has definitely improved under Kevin Ball.
There’s a better shape and balance but individual mistakes are still costing us.
It might be harsh but for United’s goals, we could have been better defensively.
For the first one, Januzaj had way too much space in the box as he picked his spot from 12 yards totally unmarked.
And for the second, John O’Shea and Ondrej Celustka seemed to get in each other’s way when better communication might have prevented it.
When the teams were announced an hour before kick-off with both Rooney and van Persie in the starting line-up, you would have got good odds on neither of them being on the scoresheet.
But it just had to be Sunderland’s luck that United’s latest young whizz-kid was unleashed on us as he proved to be the difference.
I talked to a lot of our fans before the game and not one expected us to win.
Very few thought we would get a draw and so in that respect the result was no surprise.
But that doesn’t make the frustration and disappointment of yet another defeat any less.