Premier League 2 | Old Trafford | Scorers: Chong 24, Dearnley 44, Boonen 55, Riley 59
Manchester United needed to avoid defeat to Sunderland to stave off relegation from Premier League 2 and racked up a 4-0 triumph at Old Trafford to raise hopes of climbing the table at this late stage of the campaign.
In front of an appreciative Old Trafford crowd, Tahith Chong scored the first and set up the second, for Zak Dearnley, to register a commanding half-time lead. Two goals in quick succession, by Indy Boonen and skipper Joe Riley, doubled that advantage in the hosts' biggest win of the season.
The opening exchanges were a little pedestrian but the Reds were soon in the ascendancy with Callum Gribbin skying one rare shot. Left-back Lee O'Connor overcame a roll of the ankle and the home side started to build some momentum, even if the final ball was often lacking.
An incisive move down the right, sparked by Riley's run, produced a decent opportunity, only for Devonte Redmond to fire straight at Max Stryjek. It was a taster of what was to come as a poor header by Owen Gamble, from a Gribbin pass, let in Chong, who cut inside Brandon Taylor, before supplying an incisive finish to make it a goal in each of his three Old Trafford outings.
Boonen was clattered into by Stryjek but was able to carry on and drilled and a left-foot shot wide as United continued to impress. A second goal arrived a minute before the break, with Chong inevitably involved, latching onto an Ethan Hamilton pass to tee up Dearnley's accurate finish with a low cross.
There was no let up from the restart, and the third was all Boonen's own work. The Belgian chased the ball down the left, cut inside Tayor and sneaked a near-post finish past a flat-footed Stryjek. Four minutes later, Dearnley outstripped Denver Hume and, when Stryjek came out to block, Riley pounced on the rebound, calmly moved it onto his left foot and bent home a beauty.
With Dearnley in fine form throughout, the Black Cats were penned back with Redmond cracking a drive off target as the team flowed with confidence. Gribbin rolled a low shot just the wrong side of Stryjek's left-hand post and DJ Buffonge, one of three United substitutes introduced, failed to match a superb run with the required finish.
Elliot Embleton finally worked Kieran O'Hara towards the end but the Wearsiders were well beaten on the night and, in truth, struggled to make too much of a contest of it once the fourth goal had gone in.
Ricky Sbragia's side remain bottom of the table but are now only a point adrift of Sunderland and two points off Tottenham, who face another of the relegation candidates in Derby County on Saturday. Two games remain, starting with next Friday's derby at Manchester City - which is live on MUTV.