LONDON: Teenager Federico Macheda's brilliant winner last weekend merely papered over the cracks in a Manchester United team floundering in their defence of the Premier League title.
When they visit Sunderland on Saturday (1400 GMT), United may find themselves once again looking to claim back their one-point lead from Liverpool whose home kickoff against Blackburn Rovers is two-and-a-quarter hours earlier (1145).
Last weekend, Liverpool went top on the Saturday with a last-gasp 1-0 victory at Fulham and United managed to claw their way back from 2-1 down at home to Aston Villa before 17-year-old Italian Macheda's late winner.
The United defence, still without the injured Rio Ferdinand, had a tough time again on Tuesday when Porto secured a deserved 2-2 draw in the Champions League at Old Trafford.
The champions lost central defender Jonny Evans to a groin injury during that match, making him doubtful this weekend and reducing their options further.
“They're conceding goals and we have to take advantage of that,” Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia told Sky Sports News.
With Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic as their first-choice centre back partnership United went 14 league matches without conceding a goal between mid-November and mid-February and built a seemingly unassailable lead over their rivals.
“We had a record to defend and when we lost the first goal against Blackburn (in a 2-1 win) things began to turn,” Ferguson was quoted as saying.
However, with regular potential match-winners at his disposal in Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, Sunderland, one place above the relegation zone, ought to be easy meat for United. AGENCIES