MAN UNITED 0
(Sebastian Larsson 30)
Ryan Giggs' honeymoon period has come to an abrupt end.
Just as last week's 4-0 home win over Norwich breathed some life into a new era for Manchester United, yesterday's 1-0 defeat by Sunderland at Old Trafford hammered home some painful realities.
Whoever takes over the reins - at the moment that's likely to be Louis van Gaal - has a huge task on his hands.
Going by this mediocre performance, it may be a while before they rediscover the aura that sets them apart from the rest.
It also made a mockery of suggestions that Giggs should be given the job full-time.
The Welshman may be a legend tipped for future managerial stardom, but he may be at the right place at the wrong time.
Given the licence to express themselves on the field, the players attempted to replicate the attacking game that Sir Alex Ferguson used to get out of them week in, week out.
But something seemed to be missing.
Perhaps the string of disappointments this season has taken a toll on their confidence. This was their seventh league loss at home this term.
Or maybe this was the wrong time to face a rejuvenated Sunderland who had collected seven points from their previous three matches, and now have 10 points out of four.
Whatever the reason, this was a display eerily empty.
From the players' numerous misplaced passes to goalkeeper David de Gea's appalling clearances, the signs were clear that United's problems will not disappear just with the sacking of David Moyes.
The onus is on the club to find someone capable of instilling the character back into a side capable of so much more.
In the move that led to the goal, Connor Wickham should never have been given the space to cross inches from the corner flag.
Darren Fletcher naively backed off, and one could only presume that he was trying to avoid conceding a corner.
Sebastian Larsson dashed into the box to send an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner of the net.
United had an entire hour to claw back from the deficit.
But they simply couldn't break down the organised and determined visitors, although they came close on several occasions.
Nemanja Vidic headed just wide. Phil Jones scuffed a shot from inside the box. Javier Hernandez, unmarked, blasted one wildly over the bar from close range.
Giggs also sent in three attacking players in the second half - Adnan Januzaj, Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie - but there continued to be no real conviction in United's play.
Instead, it was the Black Cats who nearly found the second goal.
Emanuele Giaccherini struck the post with his first-time effort.
Fabio Borini unleashed a wicked curler against the crossbar.
United ended up with the lion's share of the possession, but it was Sunderland who possessed the thrust.
Giggs couldn't come up with the solution.
Hopefully, for the United fans, his successor has a ready-made one.
This article was published on May 4 in The New Paper.
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