United tighten grip with Black Cats win
Titus Bramble's unfortunate own goal allowed Manchester United to tighten their stranglehold on the Barclays Premier League title as they recorded a narrow 1-0 victory at Sunderland.
The luckless defender unwittingly turned Robin van Persie's 27th-minute shot past keeper Simon Mignolet after it had also clipped Phil Bardsley on its way to goal.
The Black Cats were barely in the game before the break, but buoyed by United's failure to build upon their lead, rallied after it without ever testing keeper David de Gea as they extended their run without a league win to eight games in front of a crowd of 43,760.
United probably should have killed the game off long before the final whistle, but they did enough to extend their lead at the top of the table, for a few hours at least, to 18 points, the perfect preparation for Monday night's FA Cup quarter-final replay at Chelsea.
Sir Alex Ferguson did not even include Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney in his 18 with Monday's trip to Stamford Bridge looming large, but his side eased their way through the first half without ever having to find top gear.
There were 12 minutes gone when full-back Alex Buttner embarked upon a determined run which took him past both Craig Gardner and Bardsley and deep into the penalty area, where Mignolet managed to block his close-range effort - but he could do nothing about the chain of events which led to the opening goal with 27 minutes gone.
Van Persie picked up possession on the left side of the penalty area, but found himself confronted by Bardsley. The striker patiently worked himself into a position to shoot, but when he unleashed his drive, it flew off Bardsley's boot on to Bramble's knee and inside the far post.
The home side returned after the break knowing they had to go for broke if they were to get anything out of the game, but United retained possession at will with the movement of Shinji Kagawa and Van Persie, and Michael Carrick's composure simply too much for their hosts, who were seeing too little of the ball to bring wide men Adam Johnson and James McClean into play.
However, the former Manchester City winger finally got the bit between his teeth with 59 minutes gone when he burst into the penalty area. His cross was blocked, but Bardsley latched on to the loose ball, only to fire harmlessly over the top.
Van Persie should have made sure deep into injury-time after Ashley Young had evaded Bramble's lunge and squared, but Mignolet made a remarkable stop to deny him.