x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Day of surprises as Manchester United scrape win

On a day when Sir Alex Ferguson was honoured with a stand named after him at Old Trafford, the Premier League champions struggled during their 1-0 victory over Sunderland.

MANCHESTER // There was a certain irony that the showpiece moment of the celebrations to mark Sir Alex Ferguson's 25th anniversary in charge of Manchester United came as a complete surprise to the man himself.

Ferguson was also able to celebrate three points on Saturday, courtesy of a scrappy 1-0 win over Sunderland, but the headlines were grabbed by the announcement that the huge north stand at Old Trafford was being renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.

The 69-year-old manager had walked on to the pitch through a guard of honour made up of both teams and Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, who lifted the first Premier League title of Ferguson's reign in 1993, before David Gill, the United chief executive, revealed the club's permanent tribute.

It is the first time in the stadium's 101-year history that a stand has been named after an individual. A statue of Ferguson will also eventually be erected outside.

He said of the moment when the sign was unveiled: "I was really emotional. I couldn't believe it. I didn't expect that. I have to thank the club, it's fantastic of them to do that. … I had absolutely no idea."

Ferguson felt that the occasion had affected his players and in the end it was one of Ferguson's former players, the defender Wes Brown, who broke the deadlock with an own goal in first-half injury time.

"It was a long day for me," said Ferguson. "I'd have been quite happy if the referee had blown the whistle when we went 1-0 up and finish the game at half time."

Sunderland failed to seriously trouble Anders Lindegaard, given a rare Premier League start in goal, but there was a worrying moment for United in the 68th minute when Lee Mason, the referee, appeared to award the visitors a penalty.

It was his assistant, Jake Collin, who flagged after deciding Phil Jones had handled a cross from Sebastian Larsson but, with Larsson waiting to take the spot-kick, Mason changed his mind, ruling that Ji Dong-won handled the ball.

Ferguson said: "I couldn't believe it because I clearly felt it was the Korean boy who handled it. The fact [Collin] has put his arm across his shoulder, it's a penalty kick. I don't think Lee Mason had any idea why, and you saw how the players reacted, and he's given the correct decision."