Manchester United have fond memories of the last day of the Premier League season up in the north-east, but Sunday’s trip to Sunderland is unlikely to rival those of the past.
It was in 1996 when overhauling Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle (‘I will love it’ and all that) when United had to go to Middlesbrough in their final match to secure the league title, duly winning 3-0 to sew up the first part of a domestic double.
There will be no such joy this time and 2011/12 will end up being United’s first trophyless season since 2004/05.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson knows the game is up and that Manchester City will beat Queens Park Rangers at home to win the championship on goal difference – something Gary Neville recently said will send Ferguson’s nose even more purple than usual.
But in truth, United have been second best for most of the season in what was always likely to be a year of transition as exciting youngsters (David de Gea, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley) were all introduced into the first team on a regular basis.
Title-winning teams don’t lose at home to a side managed by Steve Kean or concede four goals at home to Everton, nor do they get hammered 6-1 by their local rivals – the match that has swung the goal difference irretrievably in City’s favour (although the sight of United’s players running to get the ball out of the net when they scored against Swansea last week as if they had a chance of making up ten goals in two matches was pretty hilarious).
Add in the dismal European campaign and cup defeats to Liverpool and Crystal Palace and it has been a pretty bad campaign for United, who will have to improve their squad in the summer to keep pace with Roberto Mancini’s men.
Title-winning teams don’t lose at home to a side managed by Steve Kean or concede four goals at home to Everton, nor do they get hammered 6-1 by their local rivals.
That said, with the possibility that City could slip up at home – however remote that possibility is – United need to do their job and beat Sunderland.
They certainly will – the Black Cats packed in weeks ago – so it is just finding the value that is the concern.
There isn’t much in the 21/50 offered for a United victory (and even less in the 18/5 on the draw and less still on 23/4 for a home win), so the 7/5 on United winning to nil could be the play.
Martin O’Neill also has work to do in the summer despite steadying the Sunderland ship after replacing Steve Bruce in December because the Wearsiders have looked bereft of quality for some time now.
The FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Everton knocked the stuffing out of Sunderland, who were admittedly riding their luck before then, and they haven’t won since losing 2-0 to the Toffees in March – a sequence that stands at eight matches.
Worryingly for O’Neill, the Black Cats haven’t scored in five of those matches and seem to be on the beach already.
They don’t seem to have the ammunition to trouble United, so take the 7/5 on the visitors winning and keeping a clean sheet – all in vain.
Recommended bet: Manchester United to win to nil @ 7/5
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