Adnan Januzaj scored a stunning quick-fire brace to earn Manchester United a precious come-from-behind victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. United had been staring at a fourth defeat in these still incredibly early stages of their Premier League title defense as a shambolic series of defending allowed Craig Gardner to put the winless hosts in front after just five minutes. But, with United again toiling, 18-year-old Januzaj provided an early justification of the hype surrounding him with two goals in six minutes at the start of the second half.
The first brought a sigh of relief from manager David Moyes, while a spectacular second yielded cheers of joy. Often criticized for his conservative nature, Moyes deserves credit for the boldness to hand Januzaj his first ever United start. And the Belgian repaid his manager’s faith and then some. Moyes will not even want to imagine the inquest that will have followed had Januzaj not come to United’s rescue.
Under caretaker manager Kevin Ball, Sunderland gave a performance of real character that provides hope for the future, even while doing nothing to aid their immediate plight at the foot of the table. The Wearsiders had been the better side in the opening half, helped by a lackluster performance from the visitors and mistakes aplenty from all of their back four.
United’s defense, which had looked more solid in the midweek draw with Shakhtar Donetsk, crumbled with a catalogue of errors to allow Sunderland into a morale-boosting early lead. The first error came from Patrice Evra allowing Emanuele Giaccherini to go past him cutting in from the right. The Italian’s cross was met by a poor clearance from Phil Jones and an even worse one by Nemanja Vidic, which had eerie similarities with his mistake in Ukraine, allowing Gardner to pounce and sweep the ball into the corner.
The goal gave the home side a jolt of belief and they ferociously closed down and harried their opponents to great effect. Indeed the only thing more that Ball could have asked from his players in the first half was to take another of the chances that came their way. Gardner should have added an assist to his stats after robbing Jones but he dallied far too long with players unmarked in the middle and allowed the United defender to get back and atone for his error.
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Giaccherini may still be wondering how he failed to get on the score sheet. First his fine header from 12 yards looked destined for the back of the net, before De Gea recovered from his momentum initially going the other way to dive across and somehow claw the ball out when it was already behind him. Later on in the period, Giaccherini should have done better than blast over from Adam Johnson’s pull back.
While United had two-thirds of possession in the first 45 minutes, there was very little attacking threat. The only chance was wasted by Nani when he volleyed wide at the back post from six yards. The one player looking to have the fleetness of foot to unsettle the organized hosts was Januzaj. The gifted youngster went close with an instant turn and shot from the edge of the box, but his star turn was yet to come.
Desperately needing some inspiration to provide a breakthrough Januzaj provided it 10 minutes into the second half. After shifting the ball out left to Evra, Januzaj continued his run into the box and with the Frenchman’s cross going behind its intended target, the midfielder met it with a crisp, controlled strike with his weaker right foot past Keiren Westwood.
While that finish was good, his second, just six minutes later took the breath away and sucked the life out of the Stadium of Light. A poor defensive header gave Januzaj the chance to fire at goal from 15 yards out to the left of center and he showed no hesitation whatsoever in striking a volley of exemplary technique into the far corner.
The strike was pivotal, both in helping United settle and draining the belief back out of their opponents. Sunderland were never able to recoup, although Moyes will have been desperate for the added security that should have been provided in the closing minutes had Robin Van Persie not poked a shot wide when clean through.