The Reds were neat and tidy in the opening exchanges, though the game was completely lacking in intensity and neither side was able to fashion a meaningful chance until John O’Shea deflected Michael Carrick’s cross just inches past the far post in the 18th minute. Moments later, Nani hooked a right-footed shot over the bar from 15 yards before Patrice Evra’s close-range header was comfortably saved by Vito Mannone.
The deadlock was broken on the half hour mark as Seb Larsson ghosted into the area to volley Connor Wickham’s cross past David De Gea, sending Sunderland’s travelling fans into raptures. While that concession forced United to up the tempo, the home side did little to trouble ex-Reds John O’Shea and Wes Brown before half-time.
Neither manager made changes at the break, though United began the second half with much more urgency and almost scored when Nemanja Vidic’s header flew just wide of the post. Adnan Januzaj then replaced Nani and the Belgian’s youthful enthusiasm appeared to energise his team-mates, before Robin van Persie made his return from injury alongside Danny Welbeck on 66 minutes.
In spite of such positive changes, Sunderland held firm and almost doubled their lead when substitute Emanuele Giaccherini and Fabio Borini hit the woodwork in the latter stages. While United huffed and puffed, going close through Welbeck and Hernandez, the Reds were unable to prevent a seventh home defeat of the league season.