Manchester United made hard work of Saturday afternoon’s visit to the Stadium of Light, but eventually left Sunderland with all three points.
The Black Cats caused the Reds plenty of discomfort in the second half but a Titus Bramble own goal on 27 minutes was enough to hand Sir Alex Ferguson’s side a narrow victory.
A number of United players were steady rather than spectacular, although five Reds – four of them defenders – caught our eye and earned a nomination for ManUtd.com’s Man of the Match award.
Dutchman Alexander Büttner, starting in successive games for the first time in his Reds career, shone on the left flank, although as much for his forward forays as his defensive contribution. He came close to scoring on two occasions, once wriggling his way through almost the entire Sunderland defence and then, in the second half, drawing a fine save from Simon Mignolet from long range.
In midfield, Michael Carrick once again displayed a knack for making football look easy. Composed on the ball, Carrick passed well but also contributed in defence, shielding United’s back four expertly and making a number of timely interceptions. He was a deserving recipient of host broadcaster Sky’s Man of the Match award.
Jonny Evans may have started the game on the bench but an injury to Rafael gave the Northern Irishman an early opportunity. He sprung into action immediately, surging forward with the ball at his feet. He then defended brilliantly, including one brave header to deny Stephane Sessegnon an easy chance in the second half.
Alongside Evans, Chris Smalling also impressed. He started in the middle before moving to the right when Rafael went off, but the switch didn’t faze him. He read the game superbly all afternoon and made one terrific header in a crowded six-yard box to help preserve United’s lead.