Manchester United brushed aside an overmatched Sunderland in a
routine 3-1 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday to ensure Alex
Ferguson’s side will be top of the English Premier League at
Robin van Persie opened the scoring when he fired into the top
left corner in the 16th minute after being set up by Ashley Young,
and Tom Cleverley doubled the advantage by turning in a pass from
Michael Carrick three minutes later.
Despite several Sunderland chances at the start of the second
half, United stretched its lead through Wayne Rooney in the 59th
when the striker converted a pass from Van Persie. The visitors
scored a consolation goal in the 72nd through Fraizer Campbell.
The league title has been won by the team that was top of the
standings at Christmas in each of the past three seasons.
With its 10th win from 11 league games, United maintained its
six-point advantage over second-placed Manchester City, while
Sunderland, which has not won a league match at Old Trafford since
1968, dropped to 16th with 16 points.
The game also featured the return of Nemanja Vidic to the United
side. Plagued by injuries since August 2011, Vidic’s absence during
last season’s run-in contributed to United’s defensive wobbles and
the Serbian defender is viewed as the main way of plugging the
leaks for a side that has kept only three clean sheets all
United started with a sense of purpose and Patrice Evra had
already wasted one opportunity when Young wriggled away from Carlos
Cuellar close to the dead-ball line, then cut a cross back that Van
Persie finished expertly for his 15th of the season.
The goal also needed significant assistance from John O’Shea,
who got himself into a muddle as he tried to clear Young’s cross,
which allowed Van Persie to profit.
Given Wes Brown’s own-goal was the difference in last season’s
corresponding fixture, Sunderland’s ex-United contingent have not
had the happiest of returns to Old Trafford.
And within three minutes, the hosts had their second.
After scoring twice against Newcastle earlier in the campaign,
Cleverley finally got his first in the Premier League at Old
It was a gem, too, as the England midfielder exchanged passes
with Carrick before drilling a fine effort past Simon Mignolet from
Rooney then wasted chances when he volleyed wide from Van
Persie’s knock-down and steered a near-post header wide from Evra’s
cross as the Red Devils threatened to run riot.
Halftime was approaching before Sunderland carved out its first
meaningful opportunity, as Stephane Sessegnon struck Evra before
the ball flew over.
The introduction of Conor Wickham at the half for the injured
Steven Fletcher triggered a flurry of activity around the United
goal as David de Gea denied Craig Gardner and Sessegnon.
Yet the best chances kept falling to the hosts.
Rooney’s shot rattled the bar after flicking off Titus Bramble,
with Young blazing the rebound over.
Then, given the number of goals he has scored so far this
season, came the somewhat surprising sight of Van Persie lobbing
wide after Young had sent the Dutchman running clear of an
over-stretched Sunderland back line.
There was little argument to be made for a Black Cats comeback
and any possibility of it was ended just before the hour when an
unselfish overlapping run by Van Persie was followed by a deft
piece of skill that took him between Cuellar and Bramble before he
set up Rooney, who tapped home from close range for his fifth in
With victory virtually assured, Ferguson felt sufficiently
confident about easing Vidic back into the fray.
After only 13 appearances in a 16-month period that included a
calf injury and two knee surgeries, the 31-year-old defender will
hope to stay injury free in order to rediscover his old form.
And Vidic appears to have plenty of work in front of him judging
by the uncharacteristic mistake that eventually led to United
old-boy Campbell heading home from close range.