Jonny Evans cannot accept total responsibility for Manchester United’s six-goal capitulation against Manchester City.
Sir Alex Ferguson described the result as “an embarrassment” which United will be reminded of for years, the pivotal moment coming when Evans was sent off at the start of the second half for a clumsy foul on Mario Balotelli. The Northern Ireland star does feel bad about his misdemeanour, but as the Red Devils were only a goal down when Evans made his premature exit, the 23-year-old cannot see how he can be blamed entirely for what happened afterwards.
“When you go down to 10 men you don’t expect to concede five goals,” Evans said. “I felt guilty for the fans because obviously it is not nice. “I am a Manchester United fan myself. I know the hurt that was felt by the people who follow United around everywhere.”
Although Evans insists he was not worried Ferguson might make him the scapegoat, there must have been a nagging fear in his mind once he returned from his automatic one-match suspension. Wayne Rooney should be restored to a more advanced role tomorrow after his game in central midfield in midweek, with Darren Fletcher likely to be back in that position and Danny Welbeck among those hoping for a recall.
Anders Lindegaard could also play in goal as Ferguson is mindful of the Dane’s status as second choice for his country, meaning that he might not have a game for a fortnight. The overriding aim though is another three points to maintain some kind of pressure on Manchester City, who have failed to win just once so far this term. Steve Bruce will return to Old Trafford cursing his luck. Sunderland have belatedly kick-started their season with victory at Bolton and a hard-fought home draw with Aston Villa last weekend after labouring through the opening weeks of the campaign. In the circumstances, a trip to Manchester United on the weekend during which Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates 25 years as manager is perhaps not the fixture they would have chosen to attempt to extend that run.
Former United defender Bruce said: “It would be us, wouldn’t it? It would be us going there. “But if there is anything about you at all, these are the games you look at – Old Trafford, 75,000 people, a fantastic place to play football. “The message to our lads is to go and enjoy it, take them on and enjoy the challenge of playing against the best. “If there is anything about you, to play at Old Trafford is the ultimate.” Bruce is yet to get the better of Ferguson as a manager, but headed across the Pennines under no illusions as to the task ahead of his team. The 6-1 derby humiliation by Manchester City a fortnight ago may not yet be a distant memory, but United have since won each of the three games they have played, and without conceding a single goal. Bruce said: “Very, very quietly, they have played three games since, they have won the lot and not conceded a goal, which is typical of the mentality he [Ferguson] has brought to the club over 25 years. “That’s what he has bred into them, that’s what he has achieved. “There is always going to be a funny result or a horrible result here and there. It’s how you respond.” A relieved Bruce has been delighted with the response he has had from his own team after an indifferent start to the season, which brought just one victory from the first eight league games.
Sunderland made 10 summer signings and the manager always knew things would take time to settle down. But while he has been relatively pleased with the performances, results have been hard to come by, so the recent improvement has been more than welcome. Bruce said: “We have been happy with the performances in the vast majority of games, we just haven’t been able to string the results together that you need.”
The Black Cats will attempt to add to their 10 points to date against the odds at Old Trafford, and will do so without two key men. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet fractured not only his nose, but an eye socket against Villa and will be sidelined for at least eight weeks, while former United defender John O’Shea will be missing with a hamstring injury. Midfielder David Vaughan is also a doubt with a groin problem, and that could hand an opportunity to skipper Lee Cattermole, who has been an unused substitute for the last two games. Mignolet’s misfortune, however, will open the door for summer signing Keiren Westwood, and Bruce will have no qualms about handing O’Shea’s international team-mate a first league start for the club.