Manchester United strolled to victory over a very poor Sunderland side, who looked like they got off the bus an hour late, in a processional encounter at Old Trafford.
Sir Alex kept faith with De Gea in goal, restoring Lindegaard to the bench. With Rafael out with a hamstring injury, Phil Jones continued his comeback from long term injury by starting at right back, alongside Ferdinand, Smalling and Evra. The rest of the line-up remained unchanged from last weekends victory over City, with Valencia and Young occupying the wings and Carrick and Cleveley running the show in midfield. Rooney sat in behind Robin van Persie up top.
With just one win away from home under their belt this season, Sunderland had their work cut out for them to get anything from the game. They set up in a compact 4-5-1 when without possession, attempting to clog midfield, which then became a 4-2-3-1 when they looked to counter, but in truth, they lacked quality to cope with United’s speed of passing in and around their box, and the game should have been beyond them after 40 minutes.
Sunderland’s shambolic attempts at defending were their undoing all day, the first example of which saw Patrice Evra left unmarked on the penalty spot from a corner, in the perfect place to receive a woeful clearance, the resulting shot narrowly fizzing past the wrong side of the bar.
United took the lead in the 16th minute, when Ashley Young twisted and turned to find room for a cross that he should never have been given, only for said cross to cannon off Agent O’Shea (nice one, John) and land in the path of Robin van Persie who smashed it into the top corner of Mignolet’s goal.
Sunderland had no response for the over/underlapping runs from Evra and Phil Jones, time and time again either pressing Valencia into passing to his fullback, or taking the fullback and giving Valencia far too much space.
United were 2-0 up after 19 minutes as Carrick and Cleverley conspired to produce a fantastic 1-2 that saw the latter ghost into Sunderland’s box unmarked, and stroke the ball into the far corner of the net with what seemed like little to no effort.
Sunderland were in disarray, with no way to get the ball anywhere near their lone striker, Fletcher. Their fans, at least, had resolved to enjoy themselves by taking a leaf out of small-time-Stoke-City’s book and stealing songs from other clubs. Their recital of City’s ‘You thought it was yours’ chant was embarrassing for them, referring as it does to an event that bares them no significance at all. No wonder then that it seemed to me that every Sunderland fan I looked at seemed to avert my quizzical stare while singing it. The East Stand responded with ‘Going down, going down, going down’ repeatedly, to which Sunderland, in a relegation fight not for the first time in recent memory, replied with the classic ‘So are we, so are we, so are we’ – a moment of humour for them in an otherwise joyless day. It must be said though that, unlike Stoke, Sunderland do actually have their own songs and their support for their team was admirable, City’s song book aside.
United should have had two more before the half, Rooney spurning two excellent chances, one in particular that saw van Persie cushion a beautiful header into Rooney’s path leading him to skew his half-volley inches wide of the post.
The change changed slightly at the half, proof if any was required, of the importance of the largely unsung work of Michael Carrick at the base of United’s midfield. Carrick’s replacement by Scholes at half time, along with greater attacking impetus from the visitors, led to a more balanced second half in which both sides troubled the scorers.
United first extended their lead to three as, once again, a clueless piece of defending from Titus Bramble let van Persie shuffle past him and square the ball for Rooney to tap home.
At 3-0 Sir Alex reintroduced Nemanja Vidic to first team action, to a standing ovation from Old Trafford. However, Sunderland spoiled the clean sheet by scoring 4 minutes later after United’s defence switched off allowing former United player Fraizer Campbell to arrive unmarked at the back post and head in a cross from 3 yards out.
The game fizzled out from there, Sunderland buoyed slightly by their goal, but De Gea equal to everything else they could throw at him.
United were scintillating at times in the first half, attacking width returning in abundance thanks to the excellent performances of Evra and Phil Jones. Carrick and Cleverley looked accomplished in midfield, and the telepathy between Rooney and van Persie was a joy to behold. Although unable to hit that same gear in the second half, the job was, in a sense, already done, not that that excuse will placate Sir Alex Ferguson.