Defeat for Black Cats at Old Trafford.
Martin O'Neill's Sunderland suffered defeat at Old Trafford as Manchester United maintained their six-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
The league leaders made a quick start and opened up a two-goal advantage inside the opening 19 minutes thanks to Robin van Persie and Tom Cleverley.
United looked a dangerous attacking threat throughout and Wayne Rooney hit the bar in the early stages of the second half before tapping home van Persie's cross just before the hour.
Sunderland did pull a goal back when substitute Fraizer Campbell headed in Stephane Sessegnon's cross 18 minutes from time.
The goal heralded a late push from the visitors who created some decent chances to further reduce the arrears, but United retained their hold on the game to seal victory.
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill was dealt a blow pre-match as Danny Rose was forced to miss out through injury having limped out of the Black Cats' previous outing.
Titus Bramble came in for the on-loan Spurs defender, while Adam Johnson was named in the starting line-up having passed a late fitness test.
As expected, United applied the early pressure with Ashley Young coming close before captain Patrice Evra wasted a great chance just 11 minutes in.
Rooney's corner was half-cleared to the defender, lurking just beyond the penalty spot, and though the Frenchman's shot was well struck, it lacked direction and fizzed over Simon Mignolet's crossbar.
But United kept pushing and were rewarded with an opening goal five minutes later.
Young cut the ball back low after outpacing Carlos Cuellar, and although John O'Shea got a touch on the delivery he succeeded only in deflecting the ball into the path of van Persie, who drove his shot high into the net.
The Dutchman almost made it 2-0 moments later but saw his downward header clawed away by Mignolet, who went full stretch to tip the effort away down by the base of his left-hand post.
But United weren't to be denied and did double their money soon afterwards to leave Sunderland with a mountain to climb.
Cleverley's fine give-and-go down the left levered open the Sunderland defence and the midfielder worked his angles well, leaving Mignolet no chance with a curling effort which dropped inside the far post.
The hosts were rampant and would have been three goals ahead inside the first 25 minutes but for some rather wasteful finishing.
Most fans would have put their house on Rooney to score when van Persie picked him out unmarked six yards from goal, but the England man somehow screwed the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.
The same player then threatened again, ghosting into the box to meet Evra's left-wing cross only to head off-target.
Sunderland were stuggling to impose themselves on the game but did create a chance just before the half-hour – James McClean drilling a shot into the legs of David De Gea after advancing well down the left.
Then Sessegnon's goalbound shot was headed over by Evra as the visitors went in at the break 2-0 down.
United, who had started the first half in style, did the same at the beginning of the second as Rooney hit the bar with a powerful drive less than two minutes in, with Young skying the rebound.
But Sunderland could have pulled a goal back when impressive sub Connor Wickham – on for the injured Steven Fletcher at half time – found Craig Gardner, whose shot was tipped away by De Gea.
Then Wickham himself had a go, twisting and turning on the edge of the box before firing just over the top.
However, the visitors' opportunities were simply a precursor to a third United goal as the hosts put the game out of sight.
The build-up was sheer quality from van Persie, who tricked his way beyond Bramble and Cuellar before squaring for Rooney to tap in.
United were cruising – but all of a sudden Sunderland were on the board to make things interesting with 18 minutes to go.
A ball across the face of goal was kept in on the far touchline by Sessegnon, who swung in a dangerous cross which was headed in by Fraizer Campbell at the far post.
It was a well-worked goal, and the breakthrough ushered in the visitors' best spell of the match.
O'Shea almost found the net against his former club with a deft back-header through a crowd of players, but De Gea was alive to the threat and grabbed the ball at the last moment.
Then the impressive Wickham had a shot blocked after good work from Larsson, while Sessegnon just couldn't force home a low cross from substitute – and debutant – James McFadden under pressure from Nemanja Vidic.
Perhaps Sunderland's late work deserved another goal, but O'Neill's men just couldn't find a way through.
An honourable mention must go to Sunderland's travelling fans, who got behind their side brilliantly and provided superb backing throughout.
- De Gea
- Ferdinand (Vidic)
- Carrick (Scholes)
- Cleverley (Giggs)
- van Persie
- Colback (McFadden)
- Johnson (Campbell)
- Fletcher (Wickham)