Titus Bramble's own goal was the difference as Manchester United took another step towards their 20th title
It's over! It's finally over! Manchester United are 18 points clear of Manchester City, who play Newcastle this afternoon. Sunderland are a terrible side, but you already knew that. By 5pm this afternoon, they could be one point above the bottom three and haven't won since 19 January.
90 min+6: United launch one final attack as Young reaches a loose ball first and steams off with one Sunderland defender and Robin van Persie for company. He takes his time before rolling it across to Van Persie, whose shot with his left foot from 15 yards out is pushed away by Mignolet. Not that it matters, because...
90 min+4: You can take my silence as an indication that United are playing out time.
90 min: Sunderland have a shot on target! From the edge of the area Wickham drills a shot through Smalling's legs but not through De Gea's. There will be six minutes of Sunderland huffing and puffing by the way.
89 min: Sunderland haven't had a shot on target.
88 min: Sessegnon's low drive from 20 yards takes a deflection and falls to Wickham. For a moment, he's in the clear but he can't sort his feet out and eventually he's forced away from goal.
85 min: Jack Colback replaces Danny Rose. One suspects this might not be Sunderland's day.
84 min: Tom Cleverley replaces Anderson."Could you let me know who wins please," says Mary Lovell. What if it's a draw?
80 min: An excellent save from Mignolet keeps Sunderland in the match. Buttner cut inside from the left, beating N'Diaye, and let fly with his right foot. Mignolet pushes it wide. From the resulting corner, Vidic heads powerfully wide from close range.
79 min: United replace Shinji Kagawa with Danny Welbeck, whose pace should give Sunderland to think about. Meanwhile O'Neill has had enough of Bardsley sending shots into orbit and has decided to let Seb Larsson have a go instead.
77 min: Another shot from Bardsley. Anyway.
76 min: Bardsley is booked after a poor tackle on Buttner leaves the United left-back in a heap. Sunderland take the delay as an opportunity to replace Adam Johnson with Connor Wickham.
73 min: All of a sudden, Buttner is haring away down the space vacated by Bardsley on the left. Buttner fizzes the ball across goal but it's just taken away from Kagawa. Up the other end, Johnson cuts inside and shoots wide of the left post.
71 min: Sunderland have been a bit better in the last 10 minutes or so but De Gea hasn't had to make a save yet. United's defenders have just had to head away a lot of Sunderland crosses.
67 min: United are trying to calm the game down with a spell of possession. Sneaky. "I would have thought that “Ferguson is furious” is the most typed phrase in premier league history…and it'll certainly get an airing if they throw this away," says Justin Kavanagh.
65 min: The pressure is building from Sunderland. I know! Bardsley wins a corner on the right. It's sent to the near post and Van Persie heads it as far as Sessegnon, who doesn't connect properly with his attempted overhead kick.
64 min: Sunderland's fans are in a funk after play was restarted with a drop ball, which inevitably resulted in a United throw-on. "For reasons as to why ONE black cat is far more dangerous than several, ask Johnathan Wilson to explain the benifits of ONE up front rather than any other number that negates plural status," says Kevin Leonoard. "(It is 10 pm in China so these musings are coupled with one or two beverages.)"
63 min: De Gea's woken up again.
62 min: De Gea is still getting treatment. I wonder if United could win this game without a goalkeeper. "While I would only rarely advocate getting someone sent off (as now), but getting in van Persie's coupon might be an option at this point if Sunderland can be bothered," says Ian Copestake.
60 min: Sunderland might just have woken up. Graham manages to beat Vidic on the right and hangs up a lovely cross for Sessegnon in the middle. He looks set to score but Evans denies him with a crucial clearing challenge. From the resulting corner, Sunderland attempt to turn the screw. Sessegnon dinks a cross to the far post and De Gea is there to punch the ball away, taking a clattering in the process from Vidic, Graham and Valencia. He's down.
59 min: At last, Sunderland show up in attack. Johnson goes on a mazy run down the right but messes up his final pass. The ball is cleared as far as Bardsley, whose shot is awful.
58 min: Van Persie is booked after catching Gardner with a high boot. The studs were up. It wasn't very pleasant. He's lucky it's not a Turkish referee. "A cat on its own looks harder, while a cat among its mates renders them all pussies," says Ian Copestake.
57 min: Also the game is happening but nothing is happening. It just is. "Nani beats his man but his cross is overhit and its gone out for a throw on the far side" is the latest offering from David Flynn, who I almost called Kevin Flynn. Would you prefer the name Kevin? It was nearly yours.
55 min: What are Sunderland? They don't do anything. They just exist. This is miserable stuff.
53 min: "In Chinese commentary they refer to Sunderland simply as THE Black Cat, singular," says Kevin Leonard. "A subtle change but it does sound more intimidating than the black cats. Cats are far more scary on their own, I'm sure everyone will agree." Why?
51 min: Van Persie does fancy a shot from there but after Young kills the ball for him, his weak effort is headed away by Rose. Incidentally before the free-kick was taken, Anderson had placed his not inconsiderable frame right in front of Mignolet in an attempt to block the goalkeeper's view.
50 min: O'Shea is booked after bringing down Van Persie just to the right of the Sunderland area. Van Persie might fancy a shot from here.
49 min: There aren't any real signs of any extra urgency from Sunderland. This club is in a real rut. "Titus Bramble scores when he wants," says Mike Ollier.
48 min: N'Diaye shoots miles wide from the right. At least it's a shot. Progress.
46 min: And we're off again, United getting the second half underway. I'm hungry.
"As a Sunderland fan, despairing of the lackluster crap he's forced to experience every weekend, I just thought I'd let you see this paragraph, straight from the Sunderland website, describing today's first half," says Graham Dixon.
Despite being a goal behind at the break, it's been a positive first half for Sunderland, who have taken the game to United. Hopefully more of the same in the second period could see a breakthrough! Ha'way the Lads!"
Do they get some kind of optimism award, a prize for fiction, or just a slap for being so dunder-headedly, blindly partisan?"
Oh that is brilliant. That reminds me of the time Wigan's official site reported a 6-0 defeat to Chelsea with the line "Latics unfortunate not to come away with result after brave performance".
Liam Murray wants you to spot the odd one out.
Fergie is glaring at the third official.
Get in there, my son! (but not recently, thank god)
New signing Robbie Keane, playing for the team he supported as a kid.
And Liverpool are champions of England.
"Is it just me or does Buttner look like a long way from a player on technique but makes up for it with that old fashioned Dutch cliches of huge enthusiasm, willingness to run all day and then take the ball too far before falling over or scoring?" says Garry Thom. It's early days for him I suppose. He doesn't look dreadful but he hasn't given Patrice Evra too much to worry about this season.
And that's it for the half. Sunderland, who have been dire and are behind thanks to Titus Bramble's own goal, walk off to the sound of boos. It will be a special achievement if United contrive not to win this.
45 min+1: Oh Robin. Such ambition. Carrick lofts a pass through to him on the right of Sunderland's area and while most players would have taken it down, Van Persie has such faith in his own ability that he tried to hook a first-time volley with his left foot past Mignolet. It whizzes a couple of yards over but you have to admire the technique.
45 min: "I love Paul Scholes but surely his name with the phrase "poorly timed tackle" is a contender," says Thomas Esch.
42 min: Van Persie wins a free-kick on the right, dusts himself off and forces a save out of Mignolet, who tips his effort over. Young sends the corner to the far post and Mignolet is relieved that Smalling can only head wide after he had failed to collect it.
38 min: Young feeds a pass into the area for Van Persie, who gets there before O'Shea but shoots straight at Mignolet from a tight angle. It was a quarter-chance at best. "This match makes me even more annoyed with Man City," says Ian Copestake. "I mean what sort of defence of their title has this been? Those astronomical sums spent in a triple dip recession and not even delivering any semblance of a challenge to assuage the supporters who actually suffer from the said triple-dip recession."
36 min: "Just curious, do you think "it looks like an unfortunate own goal from Titus Bramble" is the most typed phrase in premier league history?" parps Steve Kocher.
What about "Lee Cattermole picks up the first booking of the match" or "it's an unfortunate own goal from Jamie Carragher"?
34 min: Kagawa is drifting between the lines and Sunderland can't handle it. He's having so much joy and this time he glides to the left, before caressing a pass into the path of the onrushing Anderson. He can't quite get the ball under control though and eventually Mignolet gathers.
33 min: Before the free-kick can be taken, Jonny Evans replaces Rafael, who's got an injury of some sort. Chris Smalling will move to right-back. Once that's all done with, Van Persie sets the ball for Young, who curls one towards the left corner. Mignolet dives to his left and saves. "One for the cameras," says Martin Tyler.
32 min: Buttner tricks his way past N'Diaye and makes the most of minimal contact from the midfielder, winning a free-kick for United 25 yards from goal.
31 min: Bardsley shoots from 35 yards out. Anyway. "It's alright for you just suffering this afternoon, apart from that splendid ( defensively minded ) afternoon in '73 the've been offending my eyes for the last 47 bloody years," says Tony Burn.
30 min: "I promise you that I am not tongue in cheek here, but might Sunderland take on Jonathan Wilson as a consultant to give their tactics a bit of originality?" says Gary Naylor. "In other parts of the world, outsiders seem more prominent in the game, and, even in this country, they're coming through on the fitness / medical side these days. How long before a British club uses a bit of theory (and not merely stats and algorithms) to guide tactics?"
I'm not sure Sunderland need the help of a man who thinks goals are overrated. He wouldn't change a thing. He's absolutely loving what Sunderland are doing at the moment.
29 min: I can't see that goal being given to Van Persie, no matter how exuberantly he celebrated it. Maybe they'll give it to him because he really wants a goal. Either way, United lead and they haven't had to play especially well to get into this position.
This is probably game over and although Van Persie is claiming his first goal in seven matches, it looks like an unfortunate own goal from Titus Bramble. It's a poor goal for Sunderland to concede. Van Persie isolated Bardsley on the edge of the area and fired a fierce cross-shot through the defender's legs, the ball taking a slight deflection along the way. I think it was going wide but it took a deflection off Bramble's thigh and flew past the helpless Mignolet.
26 min: N'Diaye picks up the first booking of the match after sliding in and catching Valencia. It wasn't particularly dangerous but it was late.
24 min: Sunderland are offending my eyes.
22 min: Kagawa, who's been United's biggest threat, wriggles clear of a couple of challenges and slides a pass through to Van Persie. He's forced wide though and although he tries to get the ball back on to his left foot, Bramble steps in and nicks it off him.
21 min: Thing is, Sunderland's tactic all season has been defend and then hope Fletcher scores a goal out of nothing, but it would be especially impressive if he scores a goal out of nothing now, given that he's sat in the stands.
20 min: They might manage it, but it is impossible to see how Sunderland are ever going to score a football goal again.
18 min: Young whips a corner in from the left. Vidic rises highest and is header, which might have been going wide, is booted away just to be sure. Moments later, Van Persie volleys a pass out to Young on the left. He cuts inside and curls a cross towards the far post. It looks harmless but Mignolet gets himself in a tizz and has to palm it over. That was odd.
16 min: Gardner charges on to a loose ball on the edge of the United area and runs straight into Rafael. He falls over, Sunderland's fans appeal for a foul and Kevin Friend's whistle remains unblown.
14 min: "Young, old-looking Wickham has not started so is Sunderland setting out a tad extra defensive with perhaps the driver of said parked bus joining those at the back?" says Ian Copestake. Well United are winning 75%-25% on possession, so make of that what you will.
12 min: Buttner lopes inside from the left and is allowed to venture inside by Johnson, who palms him off to Bardsley, which was a mistake. Bardsley's non-challenge lets Buttner bustle his way through on goal but the ball gets stuck under his feet, meaning he can't quite bundle it past Mignolet, who blocks his effort behind. Mignolet punches the resulting corner from Young away.
10 min: This was almost brilliant from Carrick and Kagawa. The pair exchange silky passes with each other all the way up the right flank and have Sunderland on the run but just when it seemed to have opened up for Carrick on the edge of the area, he tries one more pass and Kagawa can't take it in his stride, allowing N'Diaye to mop up.
8 min: A free-kick for United on the left after Young's cross was handled inches outside the area. Young stands over the ball. It looks promising. But the ball in, neither cross nor short, sails harmlessly behind for a goal-kick.
6 min: This is encouraging from Sunderland. Sessegnon knocks the ball past Vidic and tries to beat the United defender for pace. He would have been through on goal if he had done so, but Vidic just manages to turn in time and knock the ball back to De Gea.
4 min: United are passing the ball crisply and with intent. On the left, Young slips a pass into Kagawa in the area. Bramble gets too tight and Kagawa spins away from him, only to shoot tamely at Mignolet when he had more time than he thought. Then, up the other end, United get themselves into all sorts of bother. Sessegnon closes down De Gea as he goes to clear the ball and the keeper kicks it straight to Graham, who foolishly plays it back to Sessegnon, who was just the 10 yards offside.
3 min: Carrick curves a cross into the area from the right. Van Persie gets ahead of O'Shea and directs a back-header goalwards - but it's from 15 yards out and flies straight at Mignolet.
2 min: An early worry for United. Nemanja Vidic is on his haunches, feeling his back after putting the ball out of play. No one was near him but he's managed to hurt himself anyway. What a warm-up! He's not required any treatment though.
And off we go, but not before a rendition of Can't help falling in love with you. That's Sunderland trying to set the mood. They get the game underway, kicking from left to right.
The teams are on the pitch at, appropriately enough, a sunny Stadium of Light. That Prokofiev tune is playing. Soon the teams will be playing. Sunderland are in their red and white stripes, United are in their blue away strip.
Team news. With the FA Cup replay against Chelsea to come on Monday afternoon, Sir Alex Ferguson has shuffled his pack, with Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney all rested. It's still a pretty strong side though, so Sunderland probably won't be getting their hopes up too much. They've lined up in what looks like a 10-0-0 formation.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose; Johnson,
Gardner, N'Diaye, McClean; Sessegnon; Graham. Subs: Westwood,
Larsson, Wickham, Kilgallon, Colback, Mangane, Mandron.
Man Utd: De Gea, Rafael, Vidic, Smalling, Buttner; Valencia,
Carrick, Anderson, Young; Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs: Lindegaard,
Evra, Evans, Nani, Welbeck, Cleverley, Powell.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)
It's Manchester United Reserves against Manchester United! Actually I'm not sure if Sunderland still have that many ex-United players in their squad - I'm tired and can only think of John O'Shea and Wes Brown - but that's what someone else called them the other day so let's go with it. Anyway the title race is all but over. If United win here, as they usually do, then they'll move 18 points clear of Manchester City, who play at 3pm. It sure is a rollercoaster ride in the best league in the world! Their fans want them to give Sunderland a gubbing today though, as they're still sore about the final day of last season and if they perform at their best, that's probably what's going to happen. Sunderland are in a state. Four points above the bottom three, they haven't won since 19 January and this is the first of a horrible run of fixtures. Could it happen? The short answer is yes and we'll be dealing mostly in short answers today. With Steven Fletcher out for the rest of the season, it's time for Danny Graham to start justifying the £5m Martin O'Neill spent on him in January. No goals yet. No goals.