Own goal wins it for United on Wearside.
Sunderland lost out to a Titus Bramble own goal as Manchester United moved a step closer to the Barclays Premier League title.
The unfortunate defender deflected Robin van Persie’s wayward shot into his own net just before the half-hour, and the goal proved to be the difference.
United had much the better of the first half but Sunderland came into the contest in the second, although they came up short of an equaliser.
Boss Martin O’Neill rang the changes against the league leaders, with Phil Bardsley, Alfred N’Diaye, Titus Bramble and James McClean all winning recalls.
Meanwhile Danny Graham led the line up front with top scorer Steven Fletcher ruled out for the season with a knee injury.
Sunderland showed plenty of early endeavour but it was United creating the initial opportunities, with van Persie flicking a deft header at Simon Mignolet inside four minutes.
The Belgian – outstanding for Sunderland this season – then intervened to deny Alexander Buttner, blocking well with his legs after the left-back bulled his way through the middle of the Sunderland defence, aided by a couple of ricochets.
And he was alert again after 18 minutes, swatting the ball over the bar after Ashley Young tried to loft a curling cross-shot over his head from out on the left.
But United did break through thanks to a slice of fortune just before the half-hour.
Van Persie’s driven shot from the left was going wide until it nicked off the thigh of the covering Bramble and flashed into the far corner beyond a startled Mignolet.
United continued to find their groove with Mignolet called into action again, firstly smartly holding Young’s free-kick before giving similar treatment to van Persie’s dead ball, pushing the Dutchman’s powerful shot over the bar.
Having not been tested in the first period, United keeper David de Gea then saw a wayward shot by Alfred N’Diaye flash high and wide early in the second period following a surging run from deep by the midfielder.
Former United man Bardsley then fired over after good work from Adam Johnson, ushering in Sunderland’s best spell of the game.
Only a superb defensive header from Nemanja Vidic prevented Stephane Sessegnon from getting on the end of a Graham cross after the striker drifted out wide.
And another dangerous ball in almost found the onrushing Craig Gardner only for United captain Vidic to deny the hosts with another timely clearance.
The Serbian’s influence helped the visitors keep Sunderland at arms’ length and they almost cashed in on the break nine minutes from time when Mignolet made a fine save to deny the impressive Buttner.
And from the resulting corner Vidic rose highest to head off target from a decent position.
Sunderland had already introduced Connor Wickham off the bench and the striker almost teed up colleague Graham with a neat cushioned header, but the bouncing ball fell the wrong side of the former Swansea man and the chance was gone.
Wickham drew a smart save from de Gea as the clock ticked into six minutes of added time, but the chance was as close as Sunderland came in the dying moments as United secured all three points.
Indeed, the visitors almost scored a second goal with the last kick of the game when van Persie was teed up with the goal at his mercy 10 yards out, but Mignolet spread himself well to save and deny the Dutchman a brace.
- Yellow Bardsley (Larsson)
- Rose (Colback)
- Yellow O'Shea
- Yellow N'Diaye
- Johnson (Wickham)
- De Gea
- da Silva (Evans)
- Kagawa (Welbeck)
- Oliveira (Cleverley)
- van Persie Yellow
- Almeida da Cunha