x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Nani prolongs title race to last day

Sir Alex Ferguson confessed Manchester United might be "clutching at straws", but has called on Wigan to help them retain the title on the final day.

Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov, left, fails to add to his side's tally against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov, left, fails to add to his side's tally against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

SUNDERLAND // Sir Alex Ferguson confessed Manchester United might be "clutching at straws", but has called on Wigan to help them retain the title on the final day. Nani's second goal in successive games was enough to overcome Sunderland yesterday and keep United a point behind Chelsea. Ferguson's men will have to beat Stoke next Sunday and hope Wigan can upset the leaders at Stamford Bridge - just like they did at the DW Stadium back in September.

And the United manager said: "I wouldn't say it's a sealed result against Wigan by any shadow of a doubt. They're a good team, they'll have a go and you just never know. It's a crazy game. Maybe we are clutching at straws a little bit. It would be a incredible achievement for us." Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager and former United captain, thinks it is "a big ask" for Wigan to answer Ferguson's plea.

When he was manager of Wigan, they gained a draw at Chelsea in 2008. But he said: "It will take an almighty collapse by Chelsea and I don't think we can see that at the moment. You can't see Wigan going and getting the result, but you can never say never. "He [Ferguson] will not give it up just yet. He will be disappointed as he always is, but he will be dignified in his defeat if that's what it is. And he will come back."

Bruce admitted Chelsea's earlier win at Liverpool "took the intensity out of the occasion" and his side lacked the cutting edge. While Nani grabbed the glory and Wayne Rooney's unexpected return emphasised his importance to United's attack, it was Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs who made the greater impact. At this climatic stage of the season, there is no substitute for experience and in Giggs, United have someone unrivalled in the current game.

The desire for a record 12th title at 36 was enough to drive him on. He almost gave United the ideal start in the fourth minute. Rooney forced Craig Gordon into a good parry, and the ball dropped to Giggs. He set himself and fired goalwards, but Phil Bardsley made an important block. In the 22nd minute, Giggs came even closer with a trademark run of old. As the Sunderland defence backpedalled, he let fly from 20 yards and the ball beat the dive of Gordon, but hit the angle of the post and bar. The chant from the United supporters of "Giggs will tear you apart again" was apt.

It was inevitable he would be involved in the winner that came six minutes later. His cross from the left dropped to Dimitar Berbatov and touches from the Bulgarian, Rooney and Darren Fletcher followed before Nani drilled a low effort into the corner. Sunderland scrapped, but had few chances, although Steed Malbranque brought the best out of Edwin van der Sar with a 25-yard rocket that saw the Dutchman spring to his right to keep it out.

Bardsley also went down looking for a penalty as Giggs tracked his run into the box. He was booked and Giggs immediately went to the other end and crossed perfectly for Berbatov, whose header hit Michael Turner with the goal gaping. Nothing went right for the much-maligned striker. He sliced one shot wide when Rooney played a delightful pass to him and wasted another opportunity from four yards when his strike partner again picked him out. Nani was denied by Gordon and Turner cleared off the line from Michael Carrick as United tried to dent Chelsea's superior goal difference.

Ferguson blamed "careless finishing" and added: "We got the win, that's the important thing. We must just make sure we win against Stoke, in front of our fans, and do our job." akhan@thenational.ae