ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Manchester United 1
LONDON • As Louis van Gaal trudged down the Stadium of Light tunnel yesterday, colour draining from his face with every step, Wahbi Khazri offered Sunderland supporters a succession of thumbs-up signs.
The Tunisia playmaker - a £9 miliion (S$18.2 million) January buy from Bordeaux - had done more than anyone to not only subject Manchester United and their manager to another awful day but also offer Sam Allardyce genuine hope that relegation can be averted after all.
Khazri prides himself on applying plenty of whip to his dead-ball delivery and this art enabled him to score Sunderland's opener before creating the second, an own goal for United goalkeeper David de Gea after Lamine Kone's header hit the Spaniard's elbow and rolled over the line in the 82nd minute.
In between, Anthony Martial contributed a fine equaliser, but United were never really in control and swiftly found themselves on the back foot.
Before the match, van Gaal had been frustrated by media reports saying that Jose Mourinho's representatives have spoken to the club about their client replacing the Dutchman.
THWARTED ONCE AGAIN
It will be very difficult now because we give five points away, Chelsea and now.
It's too much at this time.
LOUIS VAN GAAL , explaining why ManU's top-four aspirations were slipping away.
The United manager has continued to insist that the club can finish in the top four, although the defeat keeps fifth-placed United six points behind Manchester City, who now have a game in hand.
Based on this performance, his confidence in the side looks misplaced, while the result has done nothing to boost his chances of keeping his job.
EPL RESULTS & FIXTURES
Sunderland 2 Manchester United 1
Everton 0 West Bromwich 1
Norwich City 2 WestHam 2
Swansea 0 Southampton 1
Bournemouth 1 Stoke City 3
Crystal Palace 1 Watford 2
Chelsea v Newcastle United Late kick-off
Arsenal v Leicester City
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Aston Villa v Liverpool
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Manchester City v Tottenham
Ch102 & Ch227, tomorrow, 12.15am
It looks like his innings at Old Trafford is truly over and the talk of Mourinho taking over in the summer will gain ground.
For van Gaal will have little defence to put up after his team suffered another humiliation. United dominated the final stages of the first half, but other than that, they were matched or out-played by Sunderland, who could have scored more.
It was not only dismal for van Gaal that Sunderland recorded their first-ever Premier League win against the United at the Stadium of Light in their 14th attempt, but his side have also earned fewer points this season than in any other Premier League campaign after 26 games (41).
Van Gaal, though, dismissed suggestions that the defeat at Sunderland has put him under even more pressure.
He said: "No. I have to do my work and I do my work to my utmost best and I cannot do more. I shall prepare my players against Midtjylland (in the Europa League) 100 per cent and I shall do that always."
Defeat was doubly frustrating for United as they were also pegged back by a late goal in their previous game, conceding a stoppage-time equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Chelsea, and van Gaal conceded that their top-four hopes were fading.
"It will be very difficult now because we give five points away, Chelsea and now," he said. "It's too much at this time."
Van Gaal agreed when it was put to him that United's best chance of reaching the Champions League is to win the Europa League.
"After this match, I think that is the best route," he said. "But that's not so easy because a lot of very good teams are participating in this event."
A crestfallen Wayne Rooney admitted that United now face a struggle to secure a place in the top four and with it an immediate return to the Champions League following their group-stage exit this season.
"We weren't aggressive enough and that cost us," the United captain told BT Sport. "It will be difficult to get into the top four now. We have to somehow move on."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE