Manchester United 3 Sunderland 1: No slip up as Van Persie inspires Old Trafford stroll
17:02 GMT, 15 December 2012
Robin van Persie's 15th goal of the season ensured Manchester United will spend Christmas Day on top of the Premier League tree as the Red Devils eased past Sunderland.
Tom Cleverley's first league goal at Old Trafford and Wayne Rooney's fifth in four games were enough to keep United six points clear of neighbours City, with Frazier Campbell's header against his old club scant consolation for the Wearsiders, who remain deep in relegation trouble.
Yet perhaps the most significant moment of the entire game came with Nemanja Vidic's introduction midway through the second-half.
The main man: Robin van Persie enjoyed another fruitful afternoon in a Manchester United shirt, opening the scoring after 16 minutes with a cool finish (below)
Man Utd: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand (Vidic 68), Evra, Valencia, Carrick (Scholes 46), Cleverley (Giggs 73), Young, Rooney, Van Persie. Subs not used: Lindegaard, Hernandez, Welbeck, Fletcher.
Goals: Van Persie 16, Cleverley 19, Rooney 59.
Sunderland: Mignolet, Cuellar, Colback (McFadden 85), O'Shea, Bramble, Larsson, Gardner, Johnson (Campbell 68), McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher (Wickham 46). Subs not used: Westwood, Kilgallon, Vaughan, Saha.
Goal: Campbell 72.
Referee: Chris Foy.
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Plagued by injuries since August
2011, Vidic's absence during last season's run-in contributed to
United's defensive wobbles and the Serbian is viewed as the main way of
plugging the leaks that have been so obvious for a side who have still
only kept three clean sheets all season.
Not for the first time, Sir Alex
Ferguson used the build-up to offer support to an under-fire colleague,
only for his team to dismantle them 24 hours later.
In ridiculing those who questioned
Martin O'Neill's credentials, Ferguson was ignoring statistics that
showed the Black Cats had won just twice in the Premier League this
season, both on home soil against teams – Wigan and Reading – that are
alongside them in the mire.
Within 20 minutes here, it had become apparent this was not going to be number three.
Ferguson had insisted those cheeky
celebrations by Sunderland fans when the title was snatched away from
their last-day visitors in May would play no part in the outcome.
Slick finish: Tom Cleverley curls his effort past helpless Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet
Nevertheless, there was a sense of purpose about United's start which has rarely been matched this season.
Patrice Evra had already wasted one
excellent opportunity when Ashley Young wriggled away from Carlos
Cuellar close to the dead-ball line, then cut a cross back which Van
Persie finished expertly.
Scoring streak: Wayne Rooney netted his fifth goal in three Premier League games
Yet 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 haunts.
Rising high: Fraizer Campbell nods home against his former club to hit Sunderland's consolation goal
Within three minutes, the hosts had their second.
If Cleverley wants to assume the Paul Scholes mantle, he needs to start finding the net more consistently.
Back in action: Nemanja Vidic made a welcome return to the heart of Manchester United's defence – but the Serb could not prevent Campbell's consolation strike
And after two goals against Newcastle
earlier in the campaign, the England man finally got his first in the
Premier League at Old Trafford.
It was a gem too as Cleverley
exchanged passes with Michael Carrick before drilling an excellent
effort past Simon Mignolet from 12 yards.
Knockout: Mignolet and Titus Bramble struggle to contain Patrice Evra
With United scenting blood, Wayne Rooney wasted a glorious chance when he volleyed wide from Van Persie's knock-down.
The England striker then steered a near-post header wide from Evra's cross as the Red Devils threatened to run riot.
Close control: Van Persie receives a pass at Old Trafford
Half-time was approaching before
Sunderland carved out their first meaningful opportunity, which Stephane
Sessegnon struck Evra with before it flew over.
The interval introduction of Conor
Wickham for the injured Steven Fletcher did trigger a flurry of activity
around the United goal as David de Gea denied Craig Gardner and
Yet the clear chances kept falling to the hosts.
Outnumbered: John O'Shea (second right) battles with Van Persie as Phil Jones gets stuck in
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 defence.
Missed opportunity: Rooney reflects on one that got away
There was little argument to be made
for a Black Cats comeback and any pretence 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.
With victory assured, Ferguson felt sufficiently confident about easing Vidic back into the fray.
Long afternoon: Martin O'Neill looks on as his side were outclassed at Old Trafford
After only 13 appearances in a
16-month period that included a calf injury and two lots of knee
surgery, the 31-year-old desperately needs to stay injury free in order
to rediscover his old form.
Evidently, Vidic has plenty of work
in front of him too judging by the uncharacteristic mistake that
eventually led to United old-boy Campbell heading home from close range.