Wayne Rooney grabbed a brace to help Manchester United bag all three points at Old Trafford but there was controversy in the second half as referee Roger East sent off Wes Brown incorrectly.
Sunderland had held out resolutely for 65 minutes but the game turned on a decision involving two former United defenders.
Radamel Falcao did well to turn John O’Shea in the box before the Irishman pulled him down, Wes Brown only making the slightest contact.
It appeared clear who the culprit was but Mr East decided to send Brown off the field when it should have been O’Shea, even though the guilty party tried to change the decision.
Wayne Rooney slotted the resultant penalty past the dive of Costel Pantilimon to avoid a drought of nine league matches without a goal and added a second four minutes from time as Sunderland struggled to keep out a tidal wave of United pressure.
Victory means United go third, two points clear of Arsenal, while Sunderland are languishing just three points clear of the drop zone.
5’ – CHANCE ROONEY: It’s a free header from Di Maria’s corner but he directs it wide. Came at him quickly.
7’ – GOOD SAVE DE GEA: Space opens up for Wickham after Di Maria loses the ball. He has Defoe outside him but opt to shoot and the United keeper gets down really well to save at his near post.
25’ – WOODWORK SAVES SUNDERLAND: Ashley Young’s cross-shot probably isn’t going in but John O’Shea deflects it back off his own bar.
64’ – BROWN INCORRECTLY SENT OFF: Roger East shows him the red card for bringing down Falcao when clearly O’Shea was the guilty party.
66’ – GOAL: Manchester United 1-0 Sunderland: Rooney slots home his 11th of the season, beating the dive of Pantilimon.
84’ – GOAL: Manchester United 2-0 Sunderland: Rooney adds a second from close range, heading in after Pantilimon spilled Januzaj’s effort.
Wayne Rooney avoided setting a new personal Man Utd goal drought of nine league matches without a goal, having failed to score in his last eight. His last goal came against Newcastle on 26 December, when he scored twice.
No side has seen more red cards since the start of 2013/14 than Sunderland’s nine (Newcastle have also seen nine red cards in that time). Swansea and Hull are next with eight.
Wayne Rooney had scored just two goals in his previous 10 appearances versus Sunderland. He has netted six in his 15 league career appearances against them overall.
A case of mistaken identity. It appears that Brown’s red card will be overturned on appeal after Roger East’s mistake. But will the suspension be transferred to O'Shea? The rules certainly allow for it. When Arsenal had Kieran Gibbs sent off mistakenly last season, his red card was rescinded and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn't suspended either, but that is because videos showed the ball was going wide when he handballed it, so he had not denied a goal.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United): Was the deciding factor on the day and with confidence restored, he could be a real force towards the end of the season.
Man Utd: De Gea 6, Valencia 6, Smalling 6, Evans 6, Rojo 7, Blind 7, Herrera 6, Young 7, Di Maria 5, Rooney 8, Falcao 6. Subs: Mata 6, Januzaj 7, Fellaini 6.
Sunderland: Pantilimon 6, Reveillere 6, van Aanholt 6, Brown 5, O’Shea 6, Cattermole 7, Larsson 6, Gomez 6, Johnson 6, Wickham 7, Defoe 6. Subs: Fletcher 6, Graham 6, Vergini 6.