IT’S NOW or never in Sunderland’s bid to move clear of relegation danger, admits Gus Poyet, ahead of pivotal encounters against Hull and Aston Villa.
Despite succumbing to a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on Saturday, Sunderland remain three points clear of the drop zone after fellow strugglers Burnley, Villa and Hull also suffered losses.
But after just one Premier League win in 2015, Sunderland – who have failed to find the net in their last four games – now face a brace of crucial games to create daylight with the bottom three, starting with tomorrow’s trip to bogey team Hull.
Sunderland boss Poyet is under no illusions about the magnitude of the two games, where the results are all-important for the Black Cats.
“Tomorrow and in two weeks time against Villa it’s not about style, it’s not about passing,” said Poyet.
“It’s about winning and it’s time.
“There’s a moment when you need to take your chances and win football games somehow and for us that time is right now.
“We’re going to play the best team to win the game.
“Something always happens against Hull. I just hope we’re not talking about another refereeing decision tomorrow night.”
It was Sunderland – the team who had won just one league game in nine prior to this weekend – who looked the most threatening team early on.
Connor Wickham was allowed to drift in from the left flank and glide unopposed for 20 yards before driving a low shot towards goal. Not for the first time this season, David de Gea rescued United. He tipped Wickham’s shot around the post and was on hand to save from Jermain Defoe moments later.
Di Maria admitted this week that his performances had not been up to scratch and that was certainly the case on Saturday.
The Argentinian looked anything but a £59.7million player. His only success was when he swung a cross to the back post which was cleared to Ashley Young, who wastefully volleyed over.
Di Maria and Ander Herrera were being easily out-muscled by the Sunderland midfield and the United fans were not happy.
Jonny Evans was booed when he played the ball back to De Gea when and the fans yelled “Attack! Attack! Attack!”.
For a brief moment, the players heeded their calls.
Young chested down a Di Maria cross and blasted a low shot at goal which was turned onto the bar by O’Shea.
Costel Pantilimon then tipped Rooney’s free-kick over the bar and Sebastian Larsson cleared off the line from Marcos Rojo.
In the final move of the half, Di Maria sprinted down the left on the counter, but his ball to Falcao was sloppy – way too sloppy for a man who arrived at Old Trafford with a £59.7million price tag.
It came as no surprise when Di Maria was hooked at half-time, replaced by Adnan Januzaj.
Januzaj’s pace offered United more incision, but otherwise it was a similar story for the hosts, whose performance was laboured and unproductive.
The little Belgian did well to strike a fierce volley on the hour, but the shot whistled just wide.
Then came the moment where the match turned in United’s favour. Falcao found space in the area, but just as he was about to shoot, O’Shea pulled his shirt back and Brown intercepted the ball.
East pointed to the spot and sent Brown off, much to the shock of O’Shea. The Irishman told the referee he had pulled Falcao back and not Brown, but East stood by his decision and after a few minutes’ protest, the former United right-back walked.
Once all the confusion had died down, Rooney blasted the ball past Pantilimon to put United ahead.
The United fans seemed to object to Van Gaal’s second substitution by booing as Falcao was replaced by Marouane Fellaini.
But they were happy again when Rooney wrapped up the win by nodding in from close range after Pantilimon had spilled Januzaj’s shot.