Match Report: Robin van Persie exacts revenge for Manchester United against Sunderland

Manchester United 3 Sunderland 1: Sunderland played a big part in Manchester City pipping United to the title last season, but the north-west has regained its control over the north-east

Old Trafford

In the most famous double-header between Manchester and the North-East, back on the final day of the 1967/68 season, Manchester City won at Newcastle to secure the League championship from United, who lost at home to Sunderland.

The Wearsiders have not won at Old Trafford since and there was never any likelihood of such an occurrence yesterday as Sir Alex Fergusons’s side followed City’s lunchtime victory on Tyneside with one of their own.

They remain six points ahead of their neighbours after beating them last weekend, ensuring that they will be still be top at Christmas, a useful though not infallible guide to the destination of the title. Certainly there are few willing to bet against the contest becoming an exclusively Mancunian affair, just like 1968 and last season.

One reason is that Robin van Persie is now resident in the north-west and his preference for red over blue in the summer has made United favourites to take back the title that was snatched away in such dramatic fashion last May when their win at Sunderland was eclipsed by Sergio Aguero’s astonishing late goal. The delighted reaction of the Sunderland supporters that evening, while only to be expected, upset some of United’s players, notably Wayne Rooney, who responded yesterday like an angry wasp.

Van Persie meanwhile stung Sunderland with one goal – his 15th of the season – and an assist; Tom Cleverley, also excellent throughout, scored a second; and although Sunderland staged a late revival after going 3-0 down, they did little more than emphasise how pleased United will be to have Nemanja Vidic back on full-time duty. He came on for the last quarter of the game and it was Chris Smalling’s negligence rather than the Serb warrior’s that allowed Fraizer Campbell a late goal.

Martin O’Neill’s team had relieved some pressure on themselves and the manager with a 3-0 win over Reading in midweek, escaping from the bottom three, which was just as well with a demanding month ahead and the available squad well below full strength.Lacking the former United men Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley as well as Danny Rose, O’Neill juggled his remaining troops with Carlos Cuellar and Jack Colback as unconvincing full-backs who had difficult afternoons against Antonio Valdencia and Ashley Young, backed up on each flank by the rampaging Phil Jones and Patrice Evra.

Craig Gardner and Seb Larsson in central midfield could not muster any sort of control and soon had to be joined there by James McClean, switched from the left wing. O’Neill continued to mix and match all game, the best period coming towards the end when he threw on Campbell to join Connor Wickham in attack.

“I was encouraged by our second-half performance,” the Sunderland manager said. “Manchester United didn’t need the helping hand that we gave them with the first two goals, but we showed a lot of spirit and at 3-1 we were still in the game and had some chances.” He did admit: “We will have to be looking at strengthening our side,” the leading scorer Steven Fletcher having injured his back in the warm-up and contributed next to nothing before being substituted in some pain at half-time.

Sunderland had barely ventured forward before falling two goals behind. For the first, Young bamboozled Cuellar, and the unfortunate John O’Shea, hoping for a happier return to Old Trafford, nudged his cross to Van Persie, who controlled and shot in one smooth movement. The second came via two supposedly defensive midfielders; Cleverley played a pass to Michael Carrick, ran into the area for the return and clipped it past Simon Mignolet.

All Sunderland had to offer before the interval was one chance to capitalise on Rio Ferdinand’s error, but McClean, having robbed him, selfishly shot from an unlikely angle with Craig Gardner waiting.

Wickham, on for Fletcher, made a difference, but the contest was just about ended when Van Persie passed to Young, ran round him to take a return and slipped effortlessly between two defenders to lay on a tap-in for Rooney. Then Rooney’s deflected shot hit the bar – “he could have had four today,” Ferguson said – before Sunderland with a pair of positive substitutions began to trouble a defence now with Vidic for the first time since mid-September.

To the crowd’s delight he reintroduced himself with a couple of firm tackles and Smalling, completing a full house of fit United defenders, was the man missing at the far post when Campbell nodded in Stephane Sessegnon’s chip. The statistics on possession and chances stacked up quite well for Sunderland. It was the one important one that did not.

Manchester Utd (4-4-2): De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand (Vidic, 68), Evra; Valencia, Carrick (Scholes, 46), Cleverley (Giggs, 73), Young; Rooney, Van Persie.

Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Cuellar, Colback (McFadden, 85), O’Shea, Bramble; Larsson, Gardner, Johnson (Campbell, 68), McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher (Wickham, 46).

Referee: Chris Foy (St Helens).

Man of the match: Van Persie (Manchester United)

Match rating: 6/10

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions