| Robin van Persie in action, on Saturday. (Getty Images) |
London: Robin van Persie maintained his remarkable scoring streak for Manchester United as the league leaders restored their six-point advantage over second-placed Manchester City by easing to a 3-1 victory against Sunderland.
Van Persie’s 16th minute opener, his 15th goal in 21 appearances since arriving at Old Trafford from Arsenal in August, set United on course for a routine win against a Sunderland team that has now just won three times in 24 league games.
But although United’s win was comfortable enough for Nemanja Vidic to end his four-month injury lay-off as a second-half substitute, Alex Ferguson’s men could have won by an even greater margin and built a commanding goal difference lead over City going into the Christmas fixture list.
With goal difference deciding the title in City’s favour last season, Ferguson has repeatedly stressed the need to pursue emphatic victories this term in order to avoid a similar outcome to this season title race.
But while United failed to tick that particular box, further goals from Tom Cleverley and Wayne Rooney, before Fraizer Campbell’s late consolation for Sunderland, secured the win that ensures top spot at Christmas for Ferguson’s team.
The tone for United’s day of near misses was set in the sixth minute, when Ashley Young saw a powerful effort tipped over by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Patrice Evra then missed from 12 yards five minutes later.
Van Persie opened the scoring on 16 minutes, however, following good work by Young inside the penalty area. England winger Young made easy work of beating Carlos Cuellar and Sebastian Larsson before crossing into the six yard box. Former United defender John ’Shea mis-kicked his clearance and the ball dropped to Van Persie, who struck from close range.
Van Persie then saw a header saved from Phil Jones’s cross before Cleverley doubled United’s lead with a first-time strike from fifteen yards after a one-two with Michael Carrick.
Sunderland struggled to escape their own half, with James McClean the only visiting player to test David de Gea in the first-half when he shot straight at the United keeper after dispossessing Rio Ferdinand.
United’s dominance continued. Rooney volleyed wide after being teed up by Van Persie and the England striker teed up Young to shoot over the bar with the first clear effort of the second-half.
Rooney scored the goal his performance deserved on 59 minutes, though, when he tapped in from two yards after Van Persie had beaten Cuellar and Titus Bramble on the touchline before crossing to the far post.
Rather than extend their lead, however, United eased off following the third goal and Ferguson introduced Vidic and Ryan Giggs from the bench.
Sunderland, who had seen top scorer Steven Fletcher limp out of the game at half-time, built a head of steam and Campbell scored with a header from Stephane Sessegnon’s cross four minutes after replacing winger Adam Johnson.
The visitors threw balls into the United penalty area in an effort to score another, but the home side weathered the late storm to secure the points.
Earlier, champions Manchester City defeated Newcastle United 3-1 at St James’ Park. Goals by Sergio Aguero and Javi Garcia gave City a deserved 2-0 lead at halftime, but Newcastle posed more problems in the second half and halved the deficit through Demba Ba — his 11th goal of the season — in the 51st minute.
City’s defence, missing injured captain Vincent Kompany, held firm and the visitors clinched victory with 12 minutes remaining when the excellent Yaya Toure poked home from close range.
Meanwhile, police are investigating an allegation of racist abuse following an altercation between City defender Aleksandar Kolarov and a Newcastle supporter.
Kolarov, who is Serbian, was warming up as a substitute when he is believed to have become involved in a lengthy exchange with a fan who was carrying an Albanian flag.
Northumbria Police say they have "received a report of racist language having been used at the St James' Park stadium," adding that "enquiries are ongoing into the incident."
There is a long history of tension between Serbia and Albania, particularly over the disputed region of Kosovo. Kolarov came on as a 37th-minute substitute.
Elsewhere, Queens Park Rangers celebrated their first win of the season after beating west London rivals Fulham 2-1 thanks to two-goal Adel Taarabt to end a record run of 16 matches without a victory and move off the foot of the table.
The win stopped QPR becoming the first top-flight team since Bolton Wanderers in 1902-03 to fail to win any of their opening 17 games.
Aston Villa fans had plenty to cheer after a fighting 3-1 win at Liverpool moved them three points clear of the relegation zone.
Christian Benteke scored in each half at Anfield with Andreas Weimann grabbing the other goal for Villa who were 2-0 up at halftime. Steven Gerrard headed an 87th-minute consolation for Liverpool.
Norwich City beat Wigan Athletic 2-1 while Stoke City and Everton drew 1-1.