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Ball inspires improvement - but Sunderland still lose
Final Score: Sunderland 1 Man United 2
KEVIN BALL inspired Sunderland's players to produce arguably their best display of the season against Manchester United, but it remains to be seen whether a 2-1 home defeat is enough to earn the former defender the manager's job on a permanent basis.
Ball watched Craig Gardner's fifth-minute strike secure the Black Cats an early lead at the Stadium of Light, and the managerless Wearsiders proceed to dominate the opening 45 minutes against the reigning champions.
Things might have been different had David De Gea not produced one of the saves of the season to turn Emanuele Giaccherini's first-half header around the upright, but with only a one-goal advantage to defend, Sunderland were unable to prevent Manchester United turning things around after the break.
Adnan Jaduzaj's quick-fire double helped lift some of the pressure off struggling United boss David Moyes, and condemned Sunderland to their sixth defeat from seven Premier League matches, a record that leaves them stranded at the foot of the table.
Having sacked Paolo Di Canio last month, owner Ellis Short is expected to appoint a permanent manager within the next seven days. Whether that is Ball remains to be seen.
The current incumbent made two changes to the side that lost at home to Liverpool last weekend, with Valentin Roberge and Ondrej Celustka coming into a remodelled back four. With Craig Gardner pushing forward into midfield, Carlos Cuellar and Seb Larsson were the players to miss out.
Manchester United came into the game on the back of successive league defeats to Manchester City and West Brom, results that had piled considerable pressure on new boss David Moyes.
However, if Moyes thought he could swiftly turn things around on Wearside, he was forced to think again when Sunderland claimed the lead in the fifth minute.
Giaccherini's shot was charged down, but after Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic both wasted golden opportunities to clear, Gardner lashed a loose ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
It was Gardner's second goal of the season, but even he could not have expected such abject defending from the reigning champions.
Nani flashed a seventh-minute shot wide of the target as Manchester United attempted to fashion an immediate reply, but Sunderland's players continued to dominate the early stages and Gardner was only denied by a last-ditch tackle from Jones after he had robbed the England defender of possession.
The hosts were displaying an intensity and purpose that had rarely been apparent under Paolo Di Canio, and while there must still be doubts about Ball's credentials for the manager's job on a permanent basis, the success of his attempts to pull the squad back together is undeniable.
Sunderland's determination not to cede their advantage was characterised by Lee Cattermole's dramatic sliding block to deny Januzaj, but Manchester United wasted a glorious opportunity to equalise in the 21st minute.
Nani pulled away from Jack Colback as he met Patrice Evra's cross at the back post, but his first-time side-foot flew wide of the target.
Manchester United saw more of the ball in the closing stages of the first half, but Moyes' side continued to leave gaping holes in their defence and Sunderland continued to exploit them.
Giaccherini looked to have doubled his side's lead in the 34th minute, but De Gea produced a sensational save to turn his header from Adam Johnson's cross around the upright.
Keiren Westwood was forced into his first real save four minutes before the break, parrying Nani's rising drive, but it was Sunderland who ended the opening period the strongest.
Johnson dribbled into the area, and while his initial shot was blocked by Jones, he sensibly pulled the ball back to Giaccherini. The Italian was unmarked ten yards out, but blazed a wasteful effort well over the crossbar.
With neither side making a change at the interval, the second half started with Januzaj being booked for diving in the area. This was the youngster's maiden Premier League start, but he's clearly been watching plenty of Ashley Young in training.
He also knows how to finish however, and Manchester United's 55th-minute equaliser owed much to the 18-year-old good work.
Januzaj played the ball out to Patrice Evra on the left, and after carrying on his run into the area, he swept a first-time finish past Westwood after the ball was delivered into the centre.
Unsurprisingly, the goal rocked Sunderland onto their heels, and Westwood was forced to produce a fine low save to prevent Robin van Persie converting another Evra cross shortly before the hour mark.
However, Sunderland's Irish keeper was powerless to prevent Januzaj firing Manchester United into the lead with his second goal of the game.
Roberge headed Nani's right-wing cross out of the area, but Januzaj cracked a fantastic first-time volley into the right-hand corner.
Born in Brussels, the youngster, who is also eligible to play for Albania, looks to be the latest product of a remarkable production line that should make Belgium a real force in international football for the next decade or so.
Ball introduced Connor Wickham for the final 16 minutes in an attempt to spark a recovery, but after being so shaky in the first half, Manchester United's defence was rarely threatened late on.
SUNDERLAND (4-5-1): Westwood; Celustka, O'Shea, Roberge, Colback; Giaccherini, Gardner (Larsson 56), Cattermole, Ki (Wickham 74), Johnson (Ji 64); Altidore.
Subs (not used): Mannone (gk), Cuellar, Cabral, Borini.
MAN UTD (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael (Smalling 85), Vidic, Jones, Evra; Nani (Welbeck 76), Carrick, Cleverley, Januzaj (Valencia 76); Rooney; van Persie.
Subs (not used): Lindegaard (gk), Giggs, Kagawa, Hernandez.
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