It was probably just as well the Manchester United captain was absent, recovering from the broken foot suffered at Anfield last month. On his last visit to Sunderland, in October 2002, he was sent off for elbowing Jason McAteer, his erstwhile Republic of Ireland colleague having goaded him about penning his version of the Saipan spat, when he walked out of McCarthy's World Cup squad, in his autobiography.
On Saturday, it was McCarthy who rose to the bait, responding to United fans' taunts by pointing to his broad shoulders. His frustration was understandable. The Sunderland manager had seen his side floored by a classic counter-punch after pinning United against the ropes for 40 minutes. "We got caught on the break and got mugged," McCarthy lamented, "but then it did fall to a very special player."
It did, indeed. Unfortunately for McCarthy and for Sunderland, it was to Wayne Rooney that Park Ji-Sung's ball through the middle fell after a break launched from deep by John O'Shea. There was one heavy touch as England's teenage tearaway bore down on the home goal but, having locked sights on the target, he was never likely to miss. Even with Kelvin Davis to beat, and with the outstanding Justin Hoyte attempting a valiant goalmouth clearance, it was another Rooney bull's-eye.
That transformed a contest in which McCarthy's underdogs had been threatening to upset the odds which Ladbrokes set at 6-1 against them.
A fine weighted through ball from Rooney set up Ruud van Nistelrooy for United's second goal, and although Sunderland summoned a spirited late rally - Stephen Elliott halving the deficit with a curling left-foot shot and Edwin van der Sar brilliantly saving a free-kick from Anthony Le Tallec - the men from Old Trafford finished in the comfort zone. With three minutes left, Rooney fed the ball in from the right to Giuseppe Rossi and the Italian-American claimed his first goal for United, courtesy of a deflection off Gary Breen.
It was another afternoon when the Black Cats were short of luck, as they dropped back into the bottom three and United climbed up to third. They were also short of class, though, lacking United's power and precision up front. Unlike the latest addition to the ranks of their support, when it came to the attacking crunch, Sunderland were unable to punch above their weight.
"When a manager of the standing and knowledge of Sir Alex Ferguson spends £27m on someone, it doesn't really matter what I think of him," a frustrated McCarthy said, touching on the lack of clout at his disposal when asked about Rooney. "I can wax lyrical, but I can't articulate £27m, no matter how I try."
Goals: Rooney (40) 0-1; Van Nistelrooy (73) 0-2; Elliott (82) 1-2; Rossi (87) 1-3.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Caldwell, Hoyte; Lawrence (Le Tallec, 62), Miller, Whitehead, Welsh (Robinson, 86); Elliott, Gray (Stead, 62). Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Collins.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea (Fletcher, 89); Park, Smith, Scholes, Ronaldo (Miller, 89); Rooney, Van Nistelrooy (Rossi, 78). Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Pique.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Sunderland Whitehead, Caldwell; Manchester United Ronaldo.
Man of the match: Rooney.