Manchester United maintained their six point lead at the top of the Premier League with an easy win over Sunderland at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have led the table at Christmas in each of the last three seasons and showed no mercy in dispatching the relegation threatened Black Cats to secure their place at the top of the tree this year.

Martin O’Neill, who saw his side beat Reading on home turf on Tuesday, will be dreading the hectic festive period after recoding just three victories in their last 25 games and sit just a point above the relegation zone.

There were no surprises when United took a deserved lead in the 16th minute. Ashley Young tormented Carlos Cuellar and Sebastian Larsson on the left before his cross deflected off former Red Devil John O’Shea and fell to Robin Van Persie, who controlled and finished with aplomb.

It was game over three minutes later as Tom Cleverley doubled the home sides advantage, exchanging passes with Michael Carrick and bending a sumptuous effort past Simon Mignolet from just inside the penalty area.

Wayne Rooney could have made it three before half time with a volley that flashed wide of the target before the visitors sparked into life with James McClean testing David De Gea with a low shot.

Substitute Conor Wickham forced another save out of De Gea, as did a deflected McClean strike, but any hopes of a comeback were ended just before the hour mark when Van Persie tiptoed into the box and squared for Rooney to tap in.

Despite that goal settling the contest Sunderland continued to search for a consolation and were finally rewarded when United old boy Fraizer Campbell rose to head home Stephane Sessegnon’s cross in the 72nd minute.

Wickham came close to setting up a tense finish but was thwarted by De Gea again as Ferguson’s charges made it five top-flight wins on the trot.

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