Manchester United cruised to a 3-1 victory over Sunderland at Old Trafford to restore their six point advantage atop the Premier League.
After their dramatic win against second-place Manchester City last Sunday, United never looked like slipping up against a Sunderland side battling at the wrong end of the table after Robin van Persie and Tom Cleverley had put them 2-0 up inside 20 minutes. After several near misses, Wayne Rooney then added a third after the break.
It was looking like it would be a perfect day for Sir Alex Ferguson as he was also afforded the luxury of giving captain Nemanja Vidic a 25 minute run out on the Serbian’s return to action following a nearly three-month layoff. However, United’s defensive problems were again on show as former United striker Frazier Campbell pulled a goal back in the final 20 minutes.
Against a listless Sunderland side, those issues at the back were never likely to be fatal, especially with United continuing to look imperious going forward.
There was evidence of United’s attacking intent and the slack defending that would plague the visitors as early as the 11th minute. Steven Flecther made a complete hash of a clearance from a corner and the ball fell to Evra, but the defender put a poor effort over the top.
The incident was a perfect portent to United’s opening goal just five minutes later.
Ashley Young turned his way past two Villa players down the left before chipping a cross to the near post and former Manchester United defender John O’Shea gave his old side a helping hand with a woeful clearance at the near post that falls straight to Van Persie, who showed all his coolness and technique to side foot the ball right into the top corner.
A cross from the right then found Van Persie looking for a quick fire double, but Simon Mignolet made a fine diving save to turn the ball wide of the upright.
But soon enough it was 2-0. Cleverley played the ball into Carrick and received a perfectly weighted pass back into his path before dispatching a curled first-time effort inside the far post from the left side of the box. It looked all too simple for the home side.
The score line really should have been more emphatic for United before the break. Wayne Rooney missed two golden opportunities; first the forward sent a half-volley past the angle of post and bar from Van Persie’s knockdown and then he headed wide of the near post from Evra’s cross.
Sunderland had done virtually nothing on the offensive front, but there was still evidence of United’s defensive frailties. Ferdinand failed to deal with a ball on the left, allowing James McClean to knick in and break into the box, but, from a narrow angle, David de Gea came out to block the shot.
The second half began with a flurry of activity as United again came close to extending their lead. First Rooney struck the cross bar after a cross from the right and then Van Persie missed a golden opportunity as he chipped over Mignolet but wide of the post when clean through on goal.
There was some encouragement for Sunderland at the other end. Craig Gardner’s shot from edge of the box was spilled by De Gea, but the Spaniard got up smartly to block Sessegnon’s follow up from the angle.
Just as Sunderland were beginning to show some impetus for the first time in the match, Rooney all-but ended the game as a contest. Martin O’Neil will again have been left furious by his side’s defending that first allowed Van Persie to sneak between two players down the left before his cross was somehow missed by another duo of Sunderland defenders, allowing Rooney to bundle the ball in from close range.
Ferguson will also have been frustrated by his side’s failure to keep a clean sheet as some lackluster defending allowed Sunderland to grab a consolation with 18 minutes remaining. After a low ball travelled all the way across the box, no United player made a concerted effort to get out to Sessegnon and the attacking midfielder crossed to the far post where substitute Campbell rose unmarked to head home from barely a couple of yards out.
The goal sparked no late revival, though, as United comfortably played out the remaining minutes to record their fifth-straight Premier League victory.