Manchester United produced a ruthless attacking display at Old Trafford to ensure they will top the Premier League table this Christmas.

Two goals in four first-half minutes ultimately decided this as a contest, with Robin van Persie and Tom Cleverley firing in to put Sir Alex Ferguson's side firmly in control.

Wayne Rooney tapped in from close range to make it 3-0 just before the hour mark but Sunderland kept fighting and deservedly pulled a goal back through substitute and former United striker Fraizer Campbell.

Ferguson pleased with 'fantastic' hour

The result maintains United's six-point lead over Manchester City.

Having seen the title go to the club which has topped the table at Christmas in each of the past three seasons, this display will no doubt add to their growing belief.

Martin O'Neill faces a far more difficult festive period.

The Sunderland manager may retain the firm backing of the club's decision-makers but only three victories from their last 25 league matches brings its own pressures, especially considering the fact that three of their next four games are against Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

The history books had suggested it might be a long day for the visitors. Their last victory at Old Trafford came on 11 May, 1968 - a day Manchester City pipped United to the league title.

United had endured the same painful outcome when the clubs last met in May. Ferguson and his players had not forgotten the reaction of the Sunderland fans when news of City's late goals reached the Stadium of Light, and it showed.

This was an dominant display, inspired by Michael Carrick in midfield, Ashley Young's prodigious work on the wings, sublime finishing by Van Persie and a workrate and ambition that was, at times, a sight to behold.

Landmark Manchester United goal for Van Persie

Robin van Persie's goal was the 1500th scored at Old Trafford under manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

It was a performance that added weight to the argument that last week's Manchester derby was more than just a localised tremor. With United in this form and Nemanja Vidic available to shore up a leaky defence, the hope among those at Old Trafford is that perhaps it was the first signs of a seismic shift back towards the red half of Manchester.

Even accounting for the poverty of the football coming the other way, United's attacking play was rapier sharp, their finishing ruthless. For all Sunderland's energy and dedication late on, they were simply outclassed and outpassed for too much of this contest.

The damage was done in four first-half minutes, as United warmed to their task. Young was a constant menace, tormenting Carlos Cuellar with a series of lung-busting runs, full of twists and turns. One such surge down the left took him to the bye-line where he shrugged off a muscular challenge by Cuellar, twisted beyond Sebastian Larsson and crossed.

The ball deflected off John O'Shea's leg, Van Persie killed it with his first touch and sent it high beyond Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet with his second. Simple but sublime.

A second goal soon followed, as Cleverley swept a curling shot in from just inside the penalty area after a delightful exchange with Carrick.

Rooney, who was always on the same wavelength as Van Persie, was finding space with alarming regularity and might have scored two of his own. One volleyed effort flashed inches wide from the Dutchman's clever knock-down.

Another to stand out was Phil Jones, whose running from deep with tireless energy and ambition constantly challenged the visitors.

Martin O'Neill positive despite defeat

And yet Sunderland, driven on by O'Neill who didn't leave the touchline, kept pushing. James McClean might have done better having robbed Rio Ferdinand but only shoot straight at David De Gea from a narrow angle, while Patrice Evra headed Stephane Sessegnon's shot over the bar.

Substitute Conor Wickham tested De Gea, as did a deflected McClean effort but the game was decided just before the hour mark when Rooney and Van Persie combined again to devastating effect.

Young freed the Netherlands international on the left of the penalty area, who tricked his way beyond Cuellar and Titus Bramble before squaring to Rooney who tapped in.

The game all but settled, United were able to bring Vidic into the action after three months on the sidelines with a knee injury.

Three minutes later, Sunderland scored when Campbell rose majestically at the back post to head in Sessegnon's clever cross from the left.

Wickham tested De Gea again as full-time approached, a reminder to Ferguson that for all his side's attacking verve, their weakness at the back will need to be addressed if they are to regain the title at the first time of asking.

Lineup, Bookings (0) & Substitutions (6)

Man Utd

  • 01 De Gea
  • 03 Evra
  • 04 Jones
  • 05 Ferdinand (Vidic - 68' )
  • 12 Smalling
  • 07 Valencia
  • 16 Carrick (Scholes - 46' )
  • 18 Young
  • 23 Cleverley (Giggs - 73' )
  • 10 Rooney
  • 20 Van Persie

Substitutes

  • 13 Lindegaard
  • 15 Vidic
  • 11 Giggs
  • 22 Scholes
  • 24 Fletcher
  • 14 Hernandez
  • 19 Welbeck

Sunderland

  • 22 Mignolet
  • 16 O'Shea
  • 19 Bramble
  • 24 Cuellar
  • 07 Larsson
  • 08 Gardner
  • 14 Colback (McFadden - 85' )
  • 21 Johnson (Campbell - 68' )
  • 23 McClean
  • 28 Sessegnon
  • 26 Fletcher (Wickham - 46' )

Substitutes

  • 20 Westwood
  • 12 Kilgallon
  • 15 Vaughan
  • 09 Campbell
  • 10 Wickham
  • 11 McFadden
  • 25 Saha
Ref: Foy
Att: 75,582

Match Stats

Shots

15 13

On target

6 10

Corners

9 9

Fouls

13 10

Live Text Commentary

90:00 +3:31 Full time

Full Time The referee brings the game to a close.

90:00 +2:11

Sebastian Larsson takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line to the near post.

89:17

Short corner taken by Wayne Rooney.

87:08

Patrice Evra concedes a free kick for a foul on Fraizer Campbell. Direct free kick taken by Sebastian Larsson. Header from close range by Connor Wickham clears the bar.

85:38

Close range header by Robin van Persie goes wide of the left-hand post.

83:59

Free kick crossed right-footed by Sebastian Larsson, Robin van Persie manages to make a clearance.

83:59 Substitution

Substitution Jack Colback goes off and James McFadden comes on.

83:59

Antonio Valencia gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jack Colback.

82:53

Ryan Giggs sends in a cross, Titus Bramble makes a clearance.

82:16

Connor Wickham takes a shot. David De Gea makes a save.

81:58

Free kick awarded for a foul by Jack Colback on Antonio Valencia. Phil Jones takes the direct free kick.

81:16

The assistant referee signals for offside against Robin van Persie. Free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.

80:05

Inswinging corner taken by Sebastian Larsson from the left by-line played to the near post, Nemanja Vidic manages to make a clearance.

79:10

Jack Colback fouled by Paul Scholes, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.

77:58

Corner taken short by Robin van Persie.

76:54

Foul by Fraizer Campbell on Ashley Young, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Ashley Young.

75:34

Robin van Persie fouled by John O'Shea, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Ryan Giggs.

75:06

Titus Bramble challenges Wayne Rooney unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Patrice Evra.

74:52

Fraizer Campbell delivers the ball, Nemanja Vidic manages to make a clearance.

72:58 Substitution

Substitution (Man Utd) makes a substitution, with Ryan Giggs coming on for Tom Cleverley.

71:24

Stephane Sessegnon provided the assist for the goal.

71:24 Goal scored

Goal! - Fraizer Campbell - Man Utd 3 - 1 Sunderland Fraizer Campbell finds the net with a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Man Utd 3-1 Sunderland.

71:23

Stephane Sessegnon sends in a cross,

70:36

Stephane Sessegnon takes a shot. David De Gea makes a save. Corner from right by-line taken by Sebastian Larsson.

69:11

John O'Shea challenges Robin van Persie unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Paul Scholes.

67:34 Substitution

Substitution Fraizer Campbell on for Adam Johnson.

67:04 Substitution

Substitution (Man Utd) makes a substitution, with Nemanja Vidic coming on for Rio Ferdinand.

65:38

Foul by Paul Scholes on Adam Johnson, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Jack Colback.

64:29

Connor Wickham takes a shot. Rio Ferdinand gets a block in. Effort on goal by Craig Gardner from just outside the penalty area goes harmlessly over the target.

60:53

Sebastian Larsson takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line played to the near post.

60:16

Ashley Young concedes a free kick for a foul on Sebastian Larsson. The free kick is swung in left-footed by Adam Johnson, clearance by Chris Smalling.

60:00

Stephane Sessegnon challenges Patrice Evra unfairly and gives away a free kick. Patrice Evra takes the direct free kick.

58:08

Assist on the goal came from Robin van Persie.

58:08 Goal scored

Goal! - Wayne Rooney - Man Utd 3 - 0 Sunderland Wayne Rooney gets on the score sheet with a goal from close range to the bottom left corner of the goal. Man Utd 3-0 Sunderland.

57:27

Connor Wickham produces a right-footed shot from just outside the area that goes harmlessly over the target.

56:47

Antonio Valencia gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jack Colback. Direct free kick taken by John O'Shea.

55:11

The ball is crossed by James McClean, Paul Scholes gets a block in. Inswinging corner taken by Sebastian Larsson from the left by-line played to the near post.

53:35

Chris Smalling gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Connor Wickham. John O'Shea restarts play with the free kick.

52:30

Chris Smalling fouled by Carlos Cuellar, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by David De Gea.

52:12

Connor Wickham is caught offside. Rio Ferdinand takes the indirect free kick.

51:05

Craig Gardner concedes a free kick for a foul on Ashley Young. Free kick taken by Paul Scholes.

48:50

Robin van Persie produces a left-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the left of the target.

47:29

Craig Gardner takes a shot. Save by David De Gea. Stephane Sessegnon takes a shot. Blocked by David De Gea. Corner taken right-footed by Sebastian Larsson, David De Gea makes a save.

46:12

Wayne Rooney takes a shot. Ashley Young produces a right-footed shot from close range that goes over the bar.

45:01

The referee blows his whistle to start the second half.

45:01 Substitution

Substitution Connor Wickham is brought on as a substitute for Steven Fletcher.

45:01 Substitution

Substitution Paul Scholes comes on in place of Michael Carrick.

45:00 +1:13 Half time

Half Time The referee blows for half time.

44:42

James McClean takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.

41:38

Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Stephane Sessegnon by Wayne Rooney. Jack Colback takes the direct free kick.

40:59

Antonio Valencia crosses the ball, clearance by Titus Bramble.

39:26

Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Robin van Persie played to the near post, Patrice Evra has a header from inside the six-yard box and clears the crossbar.

38:23

Shot from just outside the box by Tom Cleverley goes over the target.

36:15

Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Sebastian Larsson from the left by-line to the near post, clearance made by Rio Ferdinand. Stephane Sessegnon takes a shot. Patrice Evra gets a block in. Corner from the left by-line taken by Sebastian Larsson, David De Gea makes a save. Titus Bramble gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on David De Gea. David De Gea takes the direct free kick.

35:32

Ashley Young gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Adam Johnson. Direct free kick taken by Sebastian Larsson.

34:33

Michael Carrick takes a shot. Titus Bramble gets a block in. Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Wayne Rooney.

31:19

Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Robin van Persie.

25:39

Craig Gardner takes a shot. Blocked by Michael Carrick. Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Adam Johnson played to the near post, David De Gea makes a save.

24:50

Antonio Valencia is caught offside. Free kick taken by Simon Mignolet.

23:54

James McClean takes a shot. Blocked by David De Gea.

23:30

Tom Cleverley gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Adam Johnson. Sebastian Larsson takes the free kick.

22:10

The ball is sent over by Patrice Evra, Headed effort from deep inside the area by Wayne Rooney misses to the left of the goal.

21:16

Wayne Rooney has an effort at goal from deep inside the area missing to the left of the goal.

19:55

Free kick awarded for a foul by Tom Cleverley on Sebastian Larsson. Free kick taken by Sebastian Larsson.

18:36

Assist by Michael Carrick.

18:36 Goal scored

Goal! - Tom Cleverley - Man Utd 2 - 0 Sunderland Tom Cleverley fires in a goal from inside the penalty area to the bottom right corner of the goal. Man Utd 2-0 Sunderland.

17:47

Robin van Persie takes a shot. Save by Simon Mignolet. Corner taken by Robin van Persie played to the near post, clearance made by Craig Gardner.

17:17

Antonio Valencia gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jack Colback. Simon Mignolet takes the free kick.

15:06

Assist on the goal came from Ashley Young.

15:06 Goal scored

Goal! - Robin van Persie - Man Utd 1 - 0 Sunderland Robin van Persie fires in a goal from inside the penalty box to the top left corner of the goal. Man Utd 1-0 Sunderland.

15:01

Centre by Ashley Young.

12:22

Adam Johnson gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Patrice Evra. Direct free kick taken by Tom Cleverley.

9:46

Inswinging corner taken by Wayne Rooney, Steven Fletcher manages to make a clearance. Shot from deep inside the area by Patrice Evra goes over the bar.

5:34

Corner taken left-footed by Robin van Persie, Simon Mignolet makes a clearance. Ashley Young takes a shot. Save made by Simon Mignolet. Corner taken right-footed by Wayne Rooney to the near post, save by Simon Mignolet.

4:03

Free kick awarded for a foul by Antonio Valencia on Stephane Sessegnon. John O'Shea restarts play with the free kick.

1:31

Phil Jones sends in a cross, save by Simon Mignolet.

0:00

The referee gets the game underway.

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