Manchester United victory over Sunderland strengthens top four hopes

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Manchester United entered their contest against Sunderland sitting in fourth place in the Premier League, two points above surprise top four challengers Southampton and a single point behind north London rivals Arsenal.

With their recent 2-1 loss to Swansea City last weekend, Louis van Gaal's side needed to pick up points if they want to qualify for next season's Champions League.

The Black Cats in their own right need to pick up points to distance themselves from the relegation zone. Before their match against United they sat in 16th place and were only three points away from safety.

Their recent form of one win in their last six games is not ideal to achieve a goal of retaining their top-flight status next term. 

By the end of the first half United had the lion's share of possession but lacked a lethal edge to find the back of the net. In fact it was Sunderland that found themselves with the better scoring opportunity.

In the fifth minute Conor Wickham had an effort from outside the box heading for the bottom right corner saved by David De Gea. United looked comfortable in possession the entire half but lacked creativity going forward.

Angel di Maria was often the source of despair for United. The Argentinian looked out of sorts, loosing the ball frequently or choosing the wrong option to unlock Sunderland's resilient and organized backline.

Di Maria ineffective

In the second half Van Gaal replaced Di Maria with Belgian winger Adnan Januzaj. The substitution was exactly what United needed. Januzaj was a constant nuisance for Sunderland full-back Patrick van Aanholt in the second half.

Even with the positive substitution made United found it hard to break down their opposition. It was actually referee Roger East that changed the dynamic of the game. In the 64th minute he sent off Wes Brown for a challenge on Radamel Falcao in the box.

Falcao was certainly fouled in the box as both John O'Shea and Wes Brown tried to muscle the Colombian off the ball but a red card was a harsh decision for Brown.

Referee changed the game...

Replays show that it was in fact O'Shea that had his arm wrapped around Falcao and Brown came in to challenge as the United striker went to ground. 

With the decision made and Brown off Red Devils captain Wayne Rooney stepped up to tuck the resulting penalty in the bottom corner passed the outstretched Costel Pantilimon. From here on in Sunderland never regained a say in proceedings.

The final nail in Sunderland's coffin was hammered in as Rooney got his first goal in open play for United in 2015 and second of the day. After good work on the right flank the ball came across goal and the England skipper made no mistake and put his side 2-0 up.

Champions League in Reach

The result briefly moved Manchester United up to third place, two points clear of Arsenal who beat Everton by the same scoreline at the Emirates on Sunday. However, a place in next year's Champions League is now a real possibility as Van Gaal continues to get positive results for his side.

For Sunderland manager Gus Poyet the possibility of relegation is a growing concern with QPR, Burnley and Aston Villa only three points behind the Black Cats.

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Premier League
Wayne Rooney
Manchester United
Louis van Gaal

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