The Reds responded to going behind to a Ryan Giggs own goal at the end of the first half by equalising through Nemanja Vidic shortly after the break, but Fabio Borini’s 65th-minute penalty put Sunderland back into a lead they held to the final whistle.
After absorbing early pressure from the hosts, the United players asserted themselves to the extent they should have gone into the break ahead rather than behind. Giggs struck the crossbar with a deflected effort after outpacing Lee Cattermole, and Adnan Januzaj thought he had scored his third goal on Sunderland’s home patch only to see the offside flag raised against Giggs as his second-time-of-asking shot flew past Vito Mannone.
But David Moyes' men fell behind to a goal that had Old Trafford stamped all over it, with former United centre-back Wes Brown touching a disputed Sebastian Larsson free-kick back across goal towards another ex-Reds defender, Phil Bardsley, before the ball was bundled over the line from inside the six-yard box with the final touch by the unlucky Giggs.
United draw level six minutes after the resumption, Vidic rising to head a Tom Cleverley corner past Mannone. Sunderland responded with Borini shooting just off target and Larsson’s bouncing shot forcing a good save from David De Gea, but they retook the lead from the penalty spot. Substitute Adam Johnson ran at Cleverley and was brought down on the edge of the box, with Borini sending De Gea the wrong way. Januzaj later shaved the post with a curling shot off his right foot and dinked a Valencia cross onto the roof of the net, but Sunderland held on.