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Larsson's lovely finish puts Sunderland on verge of memorable season
Full-time: Manchester United 0 Sunderland 1
AFTER the ups and downs of the last nine months, the worries Sunderland had about slipping out of the Premier League will soon be forgotten.
Rather than suffer the heartache of relegation, the season will soon be remembered as the most memorable in years.
While there have been incredible highs along the way, Gustavo Poyet's priority since taking on the mess left behind by Paolo Di Canio was always to retain top-flight status.
An inability to deliver and the Wembley appearance in March or the derby double over Newcastle would have been overshadowed by frustration.
Despite clear signs of progress under Poyet, the challenge of keeping Sunderland up has never been straight forward, with twists and turns along the way.
And yet, after sealing a first win at Old Trafford in 46 years, Poyet is on the verge of achieving the greatest success story at the Stadium of Light since Roy Keane turned Niall Quinn's crop from Championship basement boys in to title winners in 2006/07.
Sunderland had just one point when he took over from Di Canio in October and the squad he inherited lacked cohesion, quality and, most of all, confidence. Somehow he has brought the players back to a level where they can compete with the division's big guns.
Even when Sunderland dropped to the foot of the table, again, following six defeats from seven league games through March-April, he somehow instilled belief once more and achieved the 'miracle' that was required as they sat seven points adrift of safety just a few weeks ago.
Seb Larsson's sublime winner at Manchester United on Saturday meant Sunderland had taken ten points from a four-game run against Manchester City, Chelsea, Cardiff and the outgoing Premier League champions.
Larsson said: “It plays on your mind, you can't blame people for thinking we were dead and buried. We realised we were in a very difficult position ourselves.
“The manager got us to pick up a couple of good results and the confidence has come back. I have to stress, though, that it is not job done just yet, we are in a much stronger position.
“We realised it was going to be very tough but we never felt we were dead and buried ourselves. Had we felt that we would have been down a long time ago.
“We have stuck together and we believed we could do it somehow. Touchwood we finish it off and it will turn out to be a season to remember because we reached a cup final and the league turned out OK if we stay up.”
Sunderland's superior goal difference means it would take two calamitous performances against West Brom on Wednesday and then against Swansea City at the Stadium of Light next Sunday for them to be relegated.
Those two games always looked like being the vital ones because few people expected Poyet to be able to leave Old Trafford with three points because of the improved mood around Manchester following the temporary appointment of Ryan Giggs.
Yet Sunderland were effective from start to finish, frustrating the Red Devils with a stoic defensive performance which was epitomised by the way Wes Brown and John O'Shea marshalled the backline exceptionally at their former club.
Goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who looked more shaky than he has on most occasions this season, hardly had a save to make and Sunderland rarely looked like letting the lead secured by Larsson slip.
It was a lovely winner too. The unmarked Swede applied the cushioned volley inside David De Gea's far corner after Darren Fletcher had allowed Connor Wickham to pick out a team-mate from out wide.
Larsson is a number of Sunderland players out of contract this summer. He said: “If I do go and this turns out to be my last away game then this was a nice way to finish things off.
“I haven't made any decisions. I have been in the game long enough to realise how quickly things can change in this game. It is easier to let your emotions take over. The honest truth is I don't know.
“The club will speak for themselves but I couldn't tell you what is happening. The reality is: my contract is up at the end of the season and I don't know what happens after that.
“If we do end up staying up it will be one of the proudest moments for me in my career. If you think of everything that has gone on, I will be really proud.”
Larsson's lovely finish secured Sunderland's first league win over Manchester United anywhere since 1997 and was delivered in a manner which typified why Poyet's men are on the brink of staying up.
Apart from a Patrice Evra header which was gathered comfortably by Mannone ten minutes before the opener and a woeful Javier Hernandez miss which flew over after the restart, Sunderland actually went closer to scoring a second.
Emanuele Giaccherini, following some clever wing play from Jozy Altidore, and Fabio Borini, with a stunning drive, both hit the woodwork in the closing stages. In the end a second was not needed.
Larsson said: “It has been a very interesting season both as a team and on a personal note. If you come through those difficult periods you emerge stronger as a team and as an individual.
“We have shown in the last four games, the togetherness is there. We have been working hard to keep Sunderland in the Premier League and working hard for the shirt.
“We had to keep believing. We are not totally there yet, we have to stay focused. I don't think there has ever been any issues in the squad, we have a great bunch and we have worked hard together. We want to finish it on a real high by winning our last two games at the Stadium of Light.”