Even without Rooney, Manchester United should be too good for Sunderland at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland v Manchester United, Premier League, May 2, 2010

Sunderland 8.44; Draw 4.45; Manchester United 1.34

The importance of this game will be heavily influenced by events at Anfield earlier on in the day. Manchester United fans will be in the unfamiliar position of supporting Liverpool against Chelsea on Sunday lunch time but three points at the Stadium of Light could well go a long way to securing their fourth successive Premier League title. (Manchester United are 2.50 to win the league, Chelsea are 1.50.)

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have come good, as ever, at “Squeaky bum time” following a run of five wins in their last seven league matches. Successive victories over Manchester City and Spurs have left them one point behind Chelsea and judging by how they have turned it round since losing at home to the Blues and drawing at Blackburn, another title party at Old Trafford after the final game against Stoke looks a real possibility.

Steve Bruce’s side should though put up a fight at home and there are a number of reasons why Manchester United’s former captain could put a serious dent in the title push. Chief amongst these is 25-goal striker Darren Bent who has netted six in his last seven games, with all these goals coming in the first half of the matches. (29.02 for Sunderland to win the first half, but for Manchester United to win the match.)

Collectively the club are aiming for their first top-half finish in the Premier League since the 2000-01 season which would illustrate significant progress under Bruce. There has also been no shortage of chat from Sunderland’s players about how they will put up a major fight to potentially send the title to Stamford Bridge.

Matt Kilgallon got the ball rolling this week with “They’re going for the title, but we’ll try to stop them. There are no thoughts of slacking off.” Lorik Cana added “We have won 34 points at home, so I don’t think anyone should be underestimating what we are capable of. We are a really, really tough team to beat at home.” And Jordan Henderson used classic footballer cliches: “We have been playing well recently and we mustn’t show Man United too much respect.”

The home side will be without Alan Hutton whose ban for being head butted by Jozy Altidore was reduced to one game. This could mean a start for Phil Bardsley against his former club. Lee Cattermole and defenders George McCartney and John Mensah could feature but Andy Reid (hamstring) is out.

For United, reports have been growing that Wayne Rooney may play despite Ferguson hinting last week that his season was over. If Wazza fails to start, Dimitar Berbatov will lead the line following a promising display last week. There are also injury doubts surrounding Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville both of whom will be important should they play due to their vast experience.

Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have been key to the recent wins over City and Spurs and once again whilst Fergie’s former fledglings may not have the legs of yesteryear they know how to win games at the back end of the season.

Nani is now probably Manchester United’s key man and he was inspirational last week. There have been no further reports on the bug that seemed to affect the Portuguese winger and Patrice Evra against Tottenham so barring any recalls for Rooney, Ferdinand and Neville, it could be the same side that starts at Sunderland.

In October, when Sunderland were flying, the Mackems secured a highly creditable 2-2 draw at Old Trafford. But United have a terrific record at Sunderland, winning five of their last seven games and at this time of the season they very rarely slip up.

101gg predicts: Sunderland 0 – Manchester United 2 (6.20)

Sunderland 8.44; Draw 4.45; Manchester United 1.34