Sunderland 0-1 Man Utd
Manchester United ensured the title race will be decided on the final day of the season as Nani's goal at the Stadium of Light was enough to beat Sunderland.
While Liverpool were somewhat lacklustre as Chelsea cruised to victory at Anfield earlier in the day, Sunderland were considerably less so as they showed plenty of bite against a United side aware only three points would realistically keep alive their bid to grab top spot in seven days' time.
Just as he had done a week earlier against Tottenham it was Nani who settled United's nerves as he opened the scoring just shy of the half hour mark, after both sides had exchanged hefty blows but no knockout punch in the early sparring.
Short passes on the edge of Sunderland's box between Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov,Wayne Rooney and Darren Fletcher were all very polite but when the ball arrived at the Portuguese's feet there was nothing apologetic about his finish as he angled a sumptuous low drive beyond Craig Gordon.
Steed Malbranque's sighter from range drew a smart tip-over from Edwin van der Sar but it was United who were guilty of the greatest profligacy as Berbatov squandered a hat-trick of glorious chances and Giggs clipped the top of the bar.
United will now head into next Sunday's final day showdown with Stoke at Old Trafford knowing that effectively only a win can give them a 19th league title, and even that will not be enough if the Blues beat Wigan at home.
Sir Alex Ferguson and his players left the North East at least having given themselves a chance on an afternoon when they could have made things much more comfortable for themselves with striker Berbatov far from at his best.
However, the manager's record of never having lost to a team managed by former United defender Steve Bruce remained intact, and while there is hope, he will not give up on the big prize.
Sunderland signed off their home campaign with a committed display in front of a crowd of 47,641, but on an afternoon when Fabio Capello's representatives were at the Stadium of Light, England hopeful Darren Bent had little opportunity to stake his claim for a seat on the plane to South Africa.
United set about their task with some relish, but against opponents who were never likely to let them have things all their own way.
On a bitterly cold afternoon on Wearside, United created chances from the off, and it took a good fourth-minute save by Gordon from Rooney, and then Phil Bardsley's block from Giggs' follow-up, to keep them at bay.
However, only Chelsea and Aston Villa had won at Sunderland this season, and the Black Cats, who were only denied a famous victory at Old Trafford in October by Anton Ferdinand's late own goal, caused problems of their own.
Central defender John Mensah lasted only 18 minutes before his injury problems struck again, but he headed wide from Jordan Henderson's 13th-minute corner, and skipper Lorik Cana was only just off target with his effort from a Malbranque free-kick three minutes later.
Van der Sar had to pull off a fine one-handed save to keep out Malbranque's rasping 24th-minute shot, and the home fans started to believe that a surprise could be on the cards.
However, United got their noses in front four minutes later when, after Giggs and Berbatov had caused problems on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area, the ball was fed out to Nani and he blasted a low shot past the helpless Gordon and into the bottom corner.
Bruce's men were dealt a major blow eight minutes before the break when young midfielder David Meyler was stretchered off with what looked like a nasty knee injury, and their fortunes could have taken a further turn for the worse before the half-time whistle sounded.
Berbatov failed to make the most of good work by Giggs and Rooney deep inside their own half when he allowed himself to be dispossessed by Michael Turner on the edge of the box before he could shoot.
The Bulgarian was wasteful once again in injury time when Rooney once again set him up, but with just Gordon to beat, he could not hit the target.
United could, and perhaps should, have had the win wrapped up within seven minutes of the restart. First Nani was denied his second goal of the game four minutes after half-time when Gordon made a fine save as he burst into the penalty area, and then Berbatov spooned a shot over from point-blank range with the goal at his mercy.
It was simply not the striker's day, and he could not believe his luck when he met Giggs' 56th-minute cross with a firm header just yards out and saw Kieran Richardson deflect it over the crossbar.
The home side started to make an impression as the half wore on, but with strikers Bent and Fraizer Campbell seeing little of the ball, central defenders Nemanja Vidic and Johnny Evans were rarely stretched.
But substitute Michael Carrick saw his 78th-minute effort hacked off the line by Turner and although Sunderland pushed all the way to the whistle, they could not find a way back.
Latest Forum Comments
It was more like 14 goals rather then 5 that he got last season.- Munsterman
Remove Berba and include Tevez and we'd be popping the champagne at OT next weekend. That is a fact!!- jonny
Underestimate them today and the Stoke game is a dead rubber. This is one of those games where we will need to be at our best, the form they've hit over the last 2 or 3 weeks means we aren't going to get through this one with a syubborn rear guard and a break away winner. VDS Nev Vidic Rio Evra Nani Fletch Scholes Valencia Berba/Park Rooney Should do it nicely if we play it at the right tempo.- jonny
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