Manchester United sealed their seventh-consecutive Premier League victory to inch ever-closer towards their 20th title thanks to a 1-0 victory at Sunderland.
The hosts battled hard throughout but the Red Devils were ultimately comfortable winners after a first-half own goal from Titus Bramble was all that was needed to secure the three points.
Sunderland made four changes to the side that was held to a 1-1 draw at home to Norwich last time out. Stephane Sessegnon was declared fit to start up front alongside Danny Graham after top scorer Steven Fletcher was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson rotated his squad ahead of their FA Cup quarter-final replay with Chelsea on Monday with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs left out.
Martin O'Neill's men may have been recently accused of lacking spark but the Black Cats came roaring out of the blocks, forcing David de Gea into a couple of decidedly shaky clearances in the first five minutes.
However, it did not take long for the visitors to assert their authority on proceedings and they could have gone ahead on 11 minutes when full-back Alex Buttner bundled his way into the box only to be denied by Simon Mignolet.
Sunderland's early fire was well and truly extinguished on 26 minutes when Robin van Persie cleverly turned away from Phil Bardsley and arrowed a shot that had been heading wide only for Bramble to deflect it into his own net.
The lead could have been doubled before half-time. First, Anderson burst onto a quick-fire United counter-attack but just failed to get the better of Bramble before a confident-looking Van Persie stung the hands of Mignolet with a wicked curling free-kick.
For all of Sunderland’s bluster and effort there appears to be a distinct lack of both quality and confidence running through the Stadium of Light at the moment. The start of the second half proved no different to the first as some early signs of improvement gave way to poor decision making in the final third, with Adam Johnson a particular culprit.
On the hour mark, Graham showed good speed to negotiate a way past Nemanja Vidic but Sessegnon could not quite get his head to the cross ahead of Jonny Evans. From the resulting corner, De Gea confidently punched clear but clattered into Vidic in the process to leave him needing medical attention.
The hosts suddenly had some momentum and, roared on by their vociferous home support, proceeded to have their best spell of the match. It was nearly capped with an equaliser but Chris Smalling defended superbly to stop Graham from nodding in a Johnson cross.
With 10 minutes to play, Buttner and Van Persie were both denied again by a sprawling Mignolet save as United closed in on the three points and a tiring Sunderland could not find an equaliser despite six minutes of stoppage time.