Bardsley was penalised for handball on the very edge of his own area, only for Young to overhit his centre from the resulting free-kick, before Büttner’s solo run eventually culminated in his toe-poked effort being deflected away by Mignolet.
The Belgian was helpless, however, as United moved into the lead shortly before the half-hour mark. Van Persie picked up possession on the left flank and bought time while he sized up his options. Having decided to shoot, the Dutchman’s effort took an immediate nick off Bardsley, and was just starting to arc towards goal when it took a heavier touch off the thigh of Bramble and sped into the back of the net.
Van Persie wheeled away in delight, his seven-game search for a club goal potentially at an end, pending the next sitting of the Premier League’s Dubious Goals Panel. But to whom the glory belonged was a side issue; United were in front and a step closer to making history.
Sunderland’s supporters began to vent their frustration as United continued to tighten their grip on the game. Though Rafael made way for Jonny Evans, the Reds’ dominance was uninterrupted. Mignolet spectacularly caught a Young free-kick and clutched van Persie’s low, near-post effort, while only a heavy touch from Anderson spurned a delightful layoff from Kagawa.
Van Persie twice came close to doubling United’s tally in the closing moments of the half, first prompting Mignolet to tip over his fierce free-kick, then volleying over the bar after a sumptuous one-two with the superb Carrick.
Sunderland were fortunate that their tame first half showing had only been punished by a one-goal deficit, and Martin O’Neill’s players emerged for the second period clearly intent on committing to the cause; pushing greater numbers forward and charging into challenges.