x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Vidic saves nervy Reds

Manchester United make a habit of keeping on going until the end.

Nemanja Vidic fires home Manchester United's last-minute winner against Sunderland.
Nemanja Vidic fires home Manchester United's last-minute winner against Sunderland.

MANCHESTER // While Roy Keane removed himself from a reunion at 48 hours' notice and Cristiano Ronaldo substituted himself from the match with 24 minutes remaining, Manchester United make a habit of keeping on going until the end. Their unyielding resolve was apparent as Nemanja Vidic secured a 1-0 victory over Sunderland in the 91st minute and Michael Carrick, savouring the United tradition of dramatic winning goals, said: "The excitement is much greater when it comes late."

It was far from a vintage performance as United encountered defiant resistance from the managerless relegation strugglers.Yet the relevant comparison was not with Keane's most recent employers, but Liverpool and Chelsea. A trio of 0-0 draws at Anfield have provided evidence of the problems Rafa Benitez's side have had in overcoming stubborn opponents while a recent Stamford Bridge stalemate with Newcastle frustrating Luiz Felipe Scolari. Under the circumstances, then, Vidic deemed his strike "probably the most important" of his United career.

Ronaldo's, meanwhile, becomes more curious by the week. Following his unusual dismissal in the Manchester derby, the winger wandered off the pitch and down the tunnel without consultation. His sudden exit reduced his side to 10 men for two minutes before Ryan Giggs could be introduced. Citing a hip problem that is likely to rule Ronaldo out of Wednesday's match with Aalborg, Sir Alex Ferguson excused the newly-crowned European Footballer for the Year for his display of autonomy. Nevertheless, the manager's continued refusal to criticise Ronaldo is intriguing.

The goal, when it eventually arrived, came from the combination of a central midfielder and a defender operating as a makeshift striker. Vidic's appearance, in what was once Ruud van Nistelrooy's default position as the poacher, was the product of resourcefulness or desperation, according to interpretation. He converted the rebound after Carrick's deflected shot hit the post. While the long-time wearer of United's No 16 shirt dominated the build-up, the current incumbent was influential. Besides his assist, Carrick completed 88 passes, a sign of his prominence throughout before he enabled United to end Sunderland's brave rearguard action. Ricky Sbragia, the Sunderland caretaker coach who oversaw an improved performance, was coy on his chances of succeeding Keane: "I haven't ruled it out or ruled it in," he said. With global interest and more than 30 applications submitted already, he is the outsider.

Meanwhile, Newcastle legend Alan Shearer admits the prospect of captain Michael Owen leaving club next summer is a "scary thought". Owen, who scored twice in Saturday's 2-2 Premier League draw with Stoke, is in the final season of his contract at St James' Park. The £16million (Dh 81m) former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker will be free to talk to other clubs from next month. Shearer told the BBC: "His contract runs out at the end of the season and he can sign for someone in January, although he can't play for them. I think it's a scary thought to be honest, their best player in that precarious position."

Owen has pinpointed Newcastle's boardroom "turmoil" as the reason for his delay in agreeing a new contract. After former manager Kevin Keegan's controversial exit in September, owner Mike Ashley put the Magpies up for sale but has been unable to find a buyer. @Email:rjolly@thenational.ae