Sunderland were largely lacklustre and offered little throughout the game, rarely managing to get out of their own hal and usually giving the ball away quickly when they did so. A lack of urgency in pressing even gave them an early scare when the adventuruous Alexander Buttner was allowed to simply run into the Sunderland area, but hesitancy over his shot allowed Simon Mignolet to snuff out the danger.
United had started in a dominant position but were largely content to be patient and probe the Sunderland defence, with the Black Cats looking unwilling to put too much pressure on the visitors. Although there were few real chances up til then, United's breakthrough on 27 minutes had been coming, even if it was a touch fortunate. Robin van Persie, still looking somewhat out-of-sorts despite his goalscoring exploits for the Netherlands, picked up the ball on the left channel, and his low cross-cum-shot took a deflection off Titus Bramble to arrow into the net for an own-goal.
There was a blow for United shortly afterwards as Rafael, who was not selected for rotation ahead of the game, taken off with an injury. Jonny Evans was his replacement, with Chris Smalling moving to right-back. The move did not disrupt United's continued attacking, however, with Ashley Young soon going close with a free-kick before Shinji Kagawa was denied by a late block as the hosts continued to struggle.
A late free-kick tipped over by Mignolet was the last significant action of the half, with Sunderland leaving the pitch barel having had an attack or managed to get forward in any significant numbers.
Martin O'Neill nonetheless made no changes at half-time, and although Sunderland stepped up their pressure, they could not quite reverse their fortunes. The most damage they did to United again came through injury, when Nemanja Vidic and David de Gea collided in going for the same ball, although both were able to play on. Phil Bardsley was then fortunate not to see red after a dangerous challenge on Alexander Buttner, with the former United fullback only picking up a yellow card.
Buttner had looked relatively dangerous on the attack for much of the game, and tested Mignolet with a drive from the edge of the area, but once again the Belgian keeper managed to keep his side in the game. Connor Wickham's introduction in place of Adam Johnson appeared to give the Black Cats a more effective shape, but they were still unable to force any real chances - resulting in a defeat which leaves them right in the thick of a relegation battle.