Manchester United and Sunderland had to settle for a point apiece after Juan Mata’s first-half strike was soon cancelled out by Jack Rodwell’s header.
The Reds took the lead after 16 minutes when Mata stabbed home a cross from Antonio Valencia, but the Black Cats drew level 15 minutes later when Rodwell – making his home debut following his move from Manchester City – headed home from a corner.
Robin van Persie was back in action following an extended break due to his World Cup exertions, while there were two other changes from last weekend’s defeat to Swansea: the return of Antonio Valencia in the right wing-back role, and Tom Cleverley in for the injured Ander Herrera. Adnan Januzaj made a return to the scene of his remarkable full debut last season, but had to settle for a place on the bench while Sunderland once more had the former United stalwarts John O’Shea and Wes Brown in their ranks, both of whom were loudly serenaded by the travelling Red army.
The spoils were shared in an entertaining if untidy first half, with the dangerous Connor Wickham the main outlet for Sunderland’s attacking moves. The home side enjoyed a brighter start than the Reds but fell behind after 17 minutes. Van Persie fed the ball out to Antonio Valencia who drove into the box and fired a ball across the six yard box, where Mata was in place to stab the ball home after 17 minutes.
United grew in confidence, but the home side edged their way back into the game and were on level terms after 30 minutes. Seb Larsson swung in a corner and Jack Rodwell headed home powerfully from six yards out. The Black Cats came close to grabbing the lead five minutes before the break when Scotland international Steven Fletcher’s overhead kick flew past the post.
Louis van Gaal was forced into an early change when Chris Smalling went off with a hamstring injury. The defender looked to have picked up the problem early in the first half but soldiered on until the 42nd minute when he was replaced by Mike Keane, the 21-year-old making his league debut.
United enjoyed a let-off five minutes into the second half, when Wickham’s goalbound shot ricocheted off Tyler Blackett and bounced away. There was a moment of controversy just after the hour mark when Ashley Young tumbled in the box following a collision with Wes Brown, but referee Martin Atkinson booked the United man for simulation.
Van Gaal shuffled his pack, throwing on Danny Welbeck and Januzaj for van Persie and Darren Fletcher. Tom Cleverley soon followed Young into the book for clattering into Lee Clattermole, and there was more drama to follow with Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone saving the day. United launched a counter-attack following a Sunderland break, with Welbeck releasing Ashley Young with a delightful ball using the outside of his foot. Young was in a race for the ball with Mannone, but the Italian goalkeeper just got there first and cleared to safety.
Chances to win the game at the close were few and far between, and the draw, in truth, was a fair result.