Once their self-proclaimed King of the Jungle, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, broke the deadlock with a classy 31st minute finish, this match was effectively over.
And it became a case of damage limitation for David Moyes’ Championship-bound side when Seb Larsson was harshly sent off just before half-time and Henrikh Mkhitaryan stretched United’s lead just 46 seconds after the restart.
Sunderland held out until the 89th minute when teenager Marcus Rashford found the net in a League game for the first time since September 24 at the same venue he opened his England account.
Jose Mourinho won’t have found too much to berate his players after this routine victory. On the other hand, there was little to drool over either save those three classy finishes.
On the day Mourinho handed the captaincy to Marouane Fellaini and United stretched their unbeaten League record to 21 games, it was a performance in keeping with their season so far. Functional and efficient, punctuated with dashes of flair.
Manchester United fans react on Twitter to starting XI against Sunderland
Sun, April 9, 2017
Manchester United fans can't believe Jose Mourinho's starting line-up set to face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light (1.30pm)
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Manchester United fans are struggling to cope with the team to face Sunderland
The visitors didn’t have to go through the gears against a Sunderland side who accepted their fate a long time ago and are just waiting for a disastrous season to end.
Their stats are horrendous. One win this year, 10 points adrift of safety and their worst drought since 1981. Barnsley, Burton and company will hardly be quaking in their boots at the prospect of a trip to Wearside next term.
The first half may have featured a wonderful goal, a stunning save, a penalty that never was and a controversial dismissal, but those moments apart, it was a lifeless affair.
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With a quarter of an hour gone, Sunderland clocked a dubious milestone – 10 hours since their last goal. That was in their 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace two months ago, a result which has looked more and more freakish with each passing week.
Yet for all United’s early possession, the visitors looked sluggish, almost disinterested, and no one more so than Ibrahimovic. Great players, however, have that knack of being anonymous one minute and inspirational the next and so it was as the Swede notched up his 28th goal of the campaign.
Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring
Jesse Lingard had just brought the very best out of Jordan Pickford after dancing his way through a static Sunderland backline when the 35-year-old pounced.
There looked little on when he received Ander Herrera’s pass with his back to goal on the edge of the area but his strength proved too much for Billy Jones and Lamine Kone, creating the space to turn and shoot across Pickford.
Strength was an asset which did the Black Cats no favours nine minutes later. Eric Bailly clearly tripped Victor Anichebe as he turned the centre-half following Jones’s inswinging cross but the striker stayed on his feet, forcing Sergio Romero into a fine save at point-blank range.
Marcus Rashford scored his first Premier League goal since September
Had he gone down, it was a stonewall penalty and referee Craig Pawson should probably still have given it after playing advantage.
The match official did Sunderland no favours moments later in sending off Larsson, the Swede who had never previously been red-carded in 278 Premier League appearances.
It was a harsh decision. Larsson’s challenge on Ander Herrera was not a good one and studs were up but he made contact with the ball first, only catching his opponent with his follow through, and the Spaniard did not look in great discomfort when contact was made.
Within a minute of the restart, United were two up without a Sunderland player having touched the ball.
Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw react to substitution against Sunderland
Sun, April 9, 2017
Click to reveal how Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw reacted to the latter's substitution during Sunderland v Man United
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Click for the best snaps of Luke Shaw and Jose Mourinho at the Stadium of Light
Luke Shaw, who will not have annoyed his manager on this afternoon, found Mkhitaryan, who easily lost Lee Cattermole before shooting through Kone’s legs and beyond the outstretched Pickford.
That was that. Paul Pogba volleyed wildly over, the service-starved Jermain Defoe had two efforts on goal, and United conserved some energy for more arduous challenges ahead until the final flourish, when Rashford swapped passes with Ibrahimovic before beating Pickford.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-4-1): Pickford 7; Jones 6, Kone 5, Denayer 5, Oviedo 6 (Manquillo 39, 5); Cattermole 6 (Borini 66, 6); Ndong 6, Larsson 5, Rodwell 5, Anichebe 7; Defoe 5. Booked: Ndong. Sent off: Larsson. NEXT UP: West Ham (h) Sat, PL.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3): Romero 6; Darmian 6, Bailly 6, Rojo 6, Shaw 6 (Blind 61, 6); Pogba 7, Fellaini 6, Herrera 6; Mkhitaryan 8 (Martial 78), Ibrahimovic 7, Lingard 7 (Rashford 64, 6). Booked: Darmian, Shaw, Fellaini, Martial, Lingard. Goals: Ibrahimovic 30, Mkhitaryan 46, Rashford 89. NEXT UP: Anderlecht (a) Thur, EL.