MAN UNITED 2, SUNDERLAND 0
Wayne Rooney’s double finally saw off spirited Sunderland as Manchester United put in another indifferent performance.
It was a game which will be remembered not for the football, though, but for a refereeing blunder by Roger East.
The match official wrongly sent off Wes Brown in a case of mistaken identity as John O’Shea had been the perpetrator.
It probably didn’t affect the final result as the Black Cats would have been reduced to 10 men in any eventuality.
But it was an embarrassing aside and the latest in a lengthening sequence of aberrations by match officials.
Rooney’s goals, however, appeased the Reds’ fans who were disgruntled following an abject first-half showing as he became the first player in Premier League history to score 10 or more goals for 11 consecutive seasons.
And it took Sunderland being reduced to 10 men before the Reds to take control in the final quarter of the game as they recorded the victory which lifted them above Arsenal into third place in the Barclays Premier League.
With the race for top four Champions League places hotting up, this was a game in which the Reds simply could not afford to let points slip through their fingers.
Manager Louis van Gaal admitted United were “nervous” in the opening quarter of the game saying the defeat at Swansea possibly influenced that.
But after that, he was satisfied with his side’s display saying: “In the rest of the first half we created chanced and did not give any away.
“In the second half we played very well when we switched play to the wings, created chances and scored goals, and I am very happy then.”
United’s manager admitted that club record signing Angel Di Maria, who he took off at half time, needs time to adapt to a new culture and style of football.
He said: “Players have to adapt to the Premier League rhythm which is much higher than other countries.
“He has to adapt to the culture and needs time to lift his confidence. He is a human being, like me and you, and he will overcome this period, I hope.”
Sunderland manager Gus Poyet admitted his club will have to analyse the footage of the sending off before deciding whether to appeal.
Poyet added he favours leaving football as it is technology wide so people have things to discuss in the pub on a Sunday, and it would be boring without that.
However, he went on: “We have to get better as there are too many mistakes as we have found in the last few games.
“Tomorrow is a big final ( Capital One Cup) and one wrong decision can change the game.”
Van Gaal shook up the side beaten at Swansea making five changes as Radamel Falcao, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia and Jonny Evans returned.
They replaced Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini, Paddy McNair and the injured Robin van Persie.
It was a lively opening with both sides creating clear-cut chances as Rooney headed narrowly wide and Young shot just over.
Sunderland, meanwhile, had good openings as Connor Wickham forced a good save from David De Gea while Jermain Defoe curled an effort not far over the crossbar.
United almost took the lead after 25 minutes through an unlikely source, former player O’Shea who almost turned Young’s drive cross into his own goal slicing the ball on to the crossbar from three yards.
It continued to remain a frustrating afternoon for United as Young fired wide, Rooney’s free kick was topped over by keeper Costel Pantilimon and Marcos Rojo’s effort was cleared off the line by Sebastian Larsson.
Van Gaal’s response was to take off the awful Angel Di Maria at the break replacing him with Adnan Januzaj as the Reds looked for more attacking thrust.
The breakthrough came midway through the second period when Falcao was wrestled to the ground by O’Shea when he produced a fabulous turn six yards out and Rooney scored from the spot, his 100th home Premier League goal for the Reds and Everton.
There was controversy, however, as referee East dismissed Brown despite O’Shea’s protestation that he was the guilty party.
East had lengthy deliberations with his assistants only to still come to the wrong decision as Brown eventually left the field smiling, a sign of his disbelief.
United would have increased their lead but for Pantilimon who saved well from Januzaj, Rooney and Daley Blind as the 10 men of Sunderland started to wilt.
The second goal arrived with six minutes left when Januzaj’s angled shot was parried by Pantilimon and bounced up for Rooney to head home his 11th goal of the season for the Reds from six yards into an empty net.
And United thought they had added a third goal in stoppage time as Ander Herrera’s effort was ruled out for offside.