Premier League: Titus Bramble own goal sees Manchester United past Sunderland
An own goal from Sunderland's Titus Bramble handed Manchester United a 1-0 win and an 18-point lead at the top.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 30/03/13 5:53pm
Fortune has not been smiling on the Black Cats this season and they remain rooted in relegation trouble after seeing their winless run stretched to eight games.
In contrast, United are strolling towards the title and could even afford to leave Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney out of their matchday squad at the Stadium of Light.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side dominated possession from the off in the North East, as they enjoyed a positive return to the scene of their final day heartache from 2011/12.
Robin van Persie nodded an early effort into the hands of Simon Mignolet, before Alexander Buttner took one too many touches after bursting into the box.
The home support were doing all they could to drag an extra ounce of effort from their struggling troops, and they were almost awarded a gift by David de Gea - but he was saved by the assistant's flag after badly scuffing a clearance straight at Danny Graham.
Sunderland were then offered another kick in the teeth on 27 minutes when Van Persie - without a goal in his previous seven outings for United - wriggled past Phil Bardsley and drilled over a cross-shot which flicked off the knee of Bramble and past a helpless Mignolet.
The Dutchman wheeled away in celebration, believing he had notched his 20th Premier League goal of the season, but he will have to wait a little longer before reaching that particular milestone.
United continued to probe for the remainder of the first half, without really threatening, and the only other point of note during the opening 45 minutes was the early exit of Rafael - as he had to be replaced by Jonny Evans just past the half-hour mark.
Alfred N'Diaye fired a cross from a promising position into the stands at the start of the second period, before Van Persie whipped a dangerous free-kick into the face of the brave Danny Rose at the opposite end of the field.
Sunderland were able to offer more of a threat as an attacking force as they grew into the contest, but their final ball, be that from a cross or shot, let them down on too many occasions.
United suffered another injury scare when De Gea was involved in a nasty clash of heads with his captain Nemanja Vidic, but the Spaniard was able to continue and help the Red Devils to a sixth successive clean sheet - and their 11th in 30 league outings.
The game became stretched in the final quarter, with the Black Cats having to go chasing a point, but they were unable to find a way through a dogged visiting defence and United were ultimately happy to settle for one goal in a seventh straight win - with Vidic coming as close as anyone to grabbing a second as he nodded narrowly wide from a corner.
Speaking after the game, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson hailed the battling qualities of his side as they edged a step closer to reclaiming the top-flight crown.
He told Sky Sports: "It was a battling performance by the players. We picked up two or three injuries along the way and it was courage that got us through in the second half. It means we will go into the Man City game with at least a 15-point lead.
"I think the players have galvanised themselves - the team spirit, the concentration, the focus in every game. That's 25 wins in 30 league games, which is a record. That's all down to the efforts of the players."
Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill remains confident that the Black Cats can haul their way to safety, despite ending another afternoon empty-handed.
He told Sky Sports: "Confidence is a major thing in the game and we are striving for it, but I thought the players can take a great deal of confidence from that second-half performance.
"We have to go and put it right, and we intend to do so. There is a determination in that dressing room to get the points. Nothing is too easy in this game, but we are up for the challenge."