Belfast Telegraph

Manchester United have rediscovered their swagger, says Blind

By Robert Jones

Manchester United are full of confidence after making it five victories in a row against Sunderland, according to defender Daley Blind.

The Dutchman opened the scoring at Old Trafford six minutes before half-time and late goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan helped clinch a 3-1 victory for Jose Mourinho's side.

After a shaky spell in September and October, United have hit their stride under Mourinho and are unbeaten in the Premier League for two months.

The manager was unhappy with their first-half display but Blind's goal settled the nerves and United missed several golden chances to extend their lead prior to Ibrahimovic's strike in the 82nd minute.

That was overshadowed six minutes later by substitute Mkhitaryan's spectacular flick, a goal almost matched in quality by Fabio Borini's volleyed consolation for Sunderland.

United remain 13 points behind leaders Chelsea and have four to make up on Arsenal in fourth but Blind has no doubt they are heading in the right direction.

He said: "In the second half we had difficulty getting the ball but after that second goal it became a lot easier for us. Sunderland didn't create many chances and we created good chances. So I think we did well.

"In the end it was a difficult game, we played very well and got the result. We didn't have a clean sheet but it's a good result and I feel confident to move forward like this.

"We have a lot of confidence now and we're in good shape. We need to work hard and keep that feeling up and win games. Of course we want to keep this run going and we'll work hard to do that."

Blind, brought into the side at the expense of Matteo Darmian, was an unlikely source for the opening goal but he timed his run into the area perfectly to meet Ibrahimovic's lay-off and find the far corner.

It was the full-back's first goal in 11 months and his first in the Premier League since September 2015.

Blind said: "There was so much space to run into and Zlatan gave me the ball, which was one touch and then a finish. It was a good feeling to score it and it was important to score before half-time."

The result meant Sunderland remain in the relegation zone, two points from safety, ahead of a crunch game against Burnley on Saturday.

The biggest disappointment for the Black Cats was that individual mistakes from Didier N'Dong and Jason Denayer led to United's second and third goals, killing the game when it had looked like Sunderland might find an equaliser.

Defender Billy Jones said: "Going in at half-time 1-0 down was disappointing. We talked about if we can keep it at that and stay in the game we've got a chance, and we also talked before the game about not giving away easy goals.

"We feel like the second and third goals, that's what they were, with a couple of bad passes in the middle of the park.

"It's just disappointing that we've done well again against one of the big teams and haven't got anything to show for it. It makes the game against Burnley even more important now.

"We've got to show all the positives from this game and be more clinical when we have our chances, and obviously keep it tight at the back as well."

Sunderland boss David Moyes said: "We are more optimistic because we've got a couple of results and we're back on the tails of the other teams.

"But I said right at the start how difficult it was going to be, and that's not going to change.

"It'll be the same level of difficulty right to the last minute for us, I've got no doubt about that."

Mkhitaryan has, meanwhile, vowed to help United continue their Premier League resurgence after netting the best goal of his career.

Initial struggles to break into the squad, never mind the line-up, have become a thing of the past for the talented Armenian, who has rapidly become a fans' favourite at Old Trafford.

Mkhitaryan's strike against the Black Cats was his third in successive games and few can have opened their United account with three better goals after he followed up his excellent solo goal at Zorya Luhansk and drive against Tottenham.

Back from an ankle complaint, the 27-year-old substitute met a cross from Ibrahimovic with a 'scorpion' kick towards the end of the 3-1 win against Sunderland.

Jose Mourinho called the goal "phenomenal" and Mkhitaryan freely admits it was the greatest of his career to date.

"That was the best goal I've ever scored," he said. "I was very excited.

"The first thing I did was look at the assistant and I saw it was not ruled as offside so I just started to celebrate.

"I was expecting the ball to be in front of me and then I realised I was in front of it. As the ball was behind me, the only thing I could do was a backheel so I did that and I succeeded."

Mkhitaryan was fortunate not to see the offside flag raised, but few would argue that it altered the outcome or that United did not deserve victory.

It was United's fourth straight Premier League win and Mkhitaryan wants to extend that run in the New Year's Eve clash with Middlesbrough, which the attacking midfielder may well start after overcoming his ankle trouble.

"I don't have anything of concern from a past injury so I'm happy to be back to help the team," he said.

"I will try to do my best for the next game. It's very important that we're in good shape and to keep going like this."

United captain Wayne Rooney is a doubt for the Middlesbrough clash due to a thigh injury he felt during training on Christmas Day.

When asked if Rooney would be fit to face Boro, manager Mourinho said: "Honestly, I don't think so.

"I hope so. I would obviously like it. He is always a player I would like to have, but I have my little doubts. Let's see the evolution."

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