Manchester United extended their lead at the top of the Premier League with a convincing win over Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.
Robin van Persie’s measured finish started the rout and Tom Cleverley’s superbly guided strike gave the Red Devils a 2-0 half-time lead, before Wayne Rooney added a third from close range on the hour.
Martin O’Neill arrived as the only manager to claim a Premier League victory with two separate clubs at Old Trafford but it quickly became apparent that he would not be adding a third club to that list as his team were overpowered and outmanoeuvred.
A quickfire opening saw Ashley Young and Patrice Evra waste promising chances, before Van Persie gave Sir Alex Ferguson’s team the lead with an expertly guided shot following impressive work from Young on the left wing.
His determination to wriggle past the dismal Carlos Cuellar allowed him to clip a low cross into the six-yard box that John O’Shea failed to clear. The loose ball fell to the Dutchman, who accepted the invitation to sidefoot the ball into the top corner for his 11th league goal of the season.
Moments later, after Simon Mignolet palmed Van Persie’s goalbound header around the post, Cleverley doubled the hosts’ lead after playing a quick one-two with Michael Carrick and sliding into the space behind Cuellar. The England midfielder showed uncharacteristic composure to open his body and curl a powerful shot into the far corner.
United were rampant at this stage and Rooney was unlucky not to get in on the act, volleying just wide of the upright, before glancing a close-range header wide of the same post.
But they were kept honest by James McClean, who pounced on Rio Ferdinand’s error, but opted to shoot from the byline instead of squaring the ball – thus wasting his side’s best chance of the game as David De Gea snuffed out the opening.
The Black Cats found a foothold and De Gea had Patrice Evra to thank for heading a Stephane Sessegnon volley over the bar before half-time, before the Spaniard produced an important double save after the break from Craig Gardner and Sessegnon’s follow-up.
In between the chances, the visitors watched a despondent Steven Fletcher suffer an injury that led to his withdrawal at half-time. Though his replacement Connor Wickham rifled a hopeful shot from the edge of the box just over the bar, United regained their momentum just before the hour mark.
After hitting the crossbar earlier, Rooney was on hand to tap-in Van Persie’s square ball to give the home team an unassailable three goal lead, after the Dutchman – who chipped just wide moments earlier – somehow waltzed through the challenge of Cuellar and Titus Bramble.
Where their problems at the back were obvious, Sunderland still looked threatening going forward, and after Nemanja Vidic’s long-awaited return came to fruition on the 67th minute, the Serbian had to watch as substitute Frazier Campbell rose at the back post to head Sessegnon’s deep cross into the net.
And the pairing of Wickham and Campbell continued to pose problems – with the former firing a stinging drive at goal in the latter stages that required a De Gea knee to repel. Despite the late pressure though, United held firm to claim another three points in the race for the title.