before Young fired over at the second attempt. But without Carrick's control, Sunderland saw more of the ball and Craig Gardner quickly forced a low save from De Gea, who then had to smother Stephane Sessegnon’s rebound.
But it was United’s profligacy in front of goal that looked more troublesome. The approach play was undoubtedly good but it was worryingly familiar when Young lobbed a pass over Sunderland’s defence to put van Persie through on goal and the Dutchman’s attempted lobbed drifted wide. That said, just as it appeared Sunderland were growing in confidence, a third goal arrived right on cue. On 59 minutes, Young and van Persie combined as the Dutchman artfully gave Carlos Cueller and Titus Bramble the slip to cross for a Rooney tap-in at the first post.
Any lingering tension was lifted and Old Trafford found its voice as the Stretford End aired its approval of Vidic warming up on the sidelines, followed by a rousing ovation when he replaced Ferdinand in the 68th minute.
Despite United’s now healthy lead, Sunderland continued to threaten going forward and on 72 minutes got their reward as Sessegnon crossed to the far post for substitute and ex-Red Fraizer Campbell to nod home from close range. De Gea deserves credit for preventing Sunderland from making this a closer contest, but as United head into a busy Christmas period this is another game ticked off with a healthy league lead still intact.