Wayne Rooney’s first Premier League goal of the season helped Manchester United comfortably beat bottom club Sunderland 3-0 on Saturday and move to the top of the table.
Manchester City’s 4-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the day had paved the way for United to lead in the title race for the first time since Louis van Gaal took over as manager last year.
And while the performance did not bear the hallmark of champions, it was good enough to beat a Sunderland side who are yet to win this season.
The visitors held out almost until half-time, but once Memphis Depay had opened the scoring, the result was never in doubt.
Rooney levels Denis Law as Manchester United’s third-highest goal-scorer in the league
Rooney ended his drought less than a minute into the second half, taking him level with Denis Law as United’s third-highest league goal-scorer with 171 goals, and Juan Mata added the final goal in the last minute.
Sunderland had won just one of their previous 28 league games against United — a 1-0 victory in May 2014 that helped them complete a remarkable escape from relegation.
That success has been their only win at Old Trafford since 1968 and if they are not careful they are going to need another big effort to beat the drop after another desperate start to the season.
Visiting manager Dick Advocaat boasts a decent record against fellow Dutchman and former Sparta Rotterdam team-mate Van Gaal, with just one defeat from their previous nine managerial meetings.
But the pair no longer manage clubs of a similar standing and right from the start this was a rearguard action from Sunderland.
The Black Cats have the worst defensive record in the division, but they stood firm until the fourth minute of added time at the end of the first half with a deep back line that United struggled to penetrate.
Anthony Martial, bidding to become the first United player since Ian Storey-Moore in 1972 to score on his first three league appearances for the club, was kept quiet.
Rooney, meanwhile, who had not scored a league goal in 11 matches stretching back to early April, again looked short of his best.
It was left to the midfielders to try and unlock Sunderland’s defence, with Mata sending a deflected shot just wide and Depay forcing former City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon to palm a long-range shot over the bar.
Pantilimon was earlier penalised for handling outside the penalty area, but Mata wasted the free-kick.
Martial failed to score but assisted Rooney’s goal
For all United’s dominance, Sunderland did manage periods of relief on the break, Jeremain Lens forcing David de Gea to save an angled drive with his feet from the visitors’ best chance of the first half.
But just as it looked as though they would get to half-time unscathed, Sunderland fell behind with almost the final touch of the first half.
Daley Blind floated an angled ball over the visitors’ defence for Mata to square to Depay, who tapped in from close range to claim his first domestic goal since joining United from PSV Eindhoven.
If that was bad news for Sunderland, what happened 30 seconds into the second half was a disaster as the game was taken beyond them.
Again Mata was involved with a pass to Martial, who showed great strength to reach the byline and drive in a low cross that Rooney forced into the net from close range with his knee.
After Sunderland had seen chances of an unlikely comeback snuffed out as De Gea saved from Ola Toivonen and Patrick van Aanholt, Depay should have made it 3-0 from Martial’s pass, but failed to beat Pantilimon.
Pantilimon also saved well from Mata 10 minutes from the end, but he was powerless to prevent the Spaniard firing past him from an Ashley Young cross to cap a red-letter day for United.