Manchester United's under 23 side moved up to 7th in the Premier League 2 table on a rainy Monday night at the Eppleton Colliery Welfare Ground as they comfortably overcame Sunderland in a 3-1 victory, and are now two points above the relegation zone.
The hosts started the game with a few faces familiar with first team football as 26-year-old Jan Kirchoff, George Honeyman, Rees Greenwood, Lyden Gooch and former-United man Donald Love have all made a number of appearances for the Black Cats this season.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson once again took his place in the Manchester United defence despite still being out on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers while Regan Poole was also a welcome returnee in the midfield after a domestic suspension.
The young Reds went into the break with a commanding 2-0 lead
United were certainly the better side in the opening stages of the first-half Harrop calling the goalkeeper Maxymilian Stryjek into action a couple of times while the Pole also thwarted Callum Gribbin after being put through one-on-one. The attacking graft finally paid off just before the half-hour mark when ex-Red Donald Love needlessly clipped Josh Harrop's heel as the attacker was facing away from goal after a corner.
Left-back on the evening Demetri Mitchell calmly stepped up to direct the ball into the bottom left corner and give Nicky Butt's team a deserved lead while also becoming United's second top goalscorer in 2016/2017 behind Josh Harrop. Sunderland were still showing limited signs of attacking intent, though, and the visitors made them pay five minutes after the opener when a low effort from Mitchell rebounded off the back of Regan Poole and fell in front of Scott McTominay who fired a ferocious attempt from outside the box past Stryjek to double the lead.
The second goal seemed to act as a bit of a wake-up call for the hosts though as they went close to responding almost instantly. Donald Love charged up the right flank and floated in a delightful cross for Maja to get on the end of from six yards out but Axel Tuanzebe heroically blocked the effort before it could reach Kieran O'Hara in goal. The half-time whistle blew after just one minute of additional time and it was job done so far by Manchester United courtesy of a solid defensive showing and positive chance creation at the other end of the pitch.
Proceedings were a lot tighter in a somewhat heated second half
The second period remained at a fast pace but as frustrations started to boil over on the Sunderland side of things, five yellow cards were handed out as well as a late sending off for Regan Poole after recklessly sliding in from behind in the final stages of second half stoppage time. Before the later drama though, the home side brought on lively forward Joel Asoro in an attempt to cause a bit more havoc among the opposition back line and that went into effect immediately. The Swede beat Demetri Mitchell on the right and made his way into the box to cut the ball back into the path of George Honeyman who could only fire over from close range, a disappointing effort but brighter signs from the team in red and white stripes.
It was Jan Kirchoff who came close next as the match approached the hour mark as the six foot five German dispossessed Matty Willock in the United half and charged towards goal through the whole defence, only to curl wide with his left foot from the 10-yard mark. After a distinct lack of real chances in the second half, the away side scored a third on 71 minutes arguably against the run of play at the time as Devonte Redmond played McTominay through on goal who couldn't add another goal to his tally but forced the keeper into a double save before Redmond followed up and smashed the ball home without fail.
Tempers flared shortly after the third on the touchline with Sunderland head coach Elliott Dickman visibly unhappy with the officials for the time taken to get play back underway and then turned his anger towards United's interim boss Nicky Butt in an unprovoked war of words. As the Wearside club searched for a consolation goal in the final 10 minutes, Asoro went down in the area with Demetri Mitchell closely behind despite being one-on-one with Kieran O'Hara, however, no penalty was given nor a booking for the forwards in what was a confusing few moments for the referee.
Late drama as Regan Poole sees red for a second straight league fixture
Welshman Regan Poole found himself in trouble again in the 93rd minute when he made a silly decision to slide into the back of the running Molinuex and received his marching orders from referee Peter Wright. The resulting free-kick was dipped over the back of the defensive line for Asoro to hit the ball across goal and George Honeyman was in the right place at the right time to slot past O'Hara, and put a slightly sour taste on what was overall a great performance from the Manchester United reserves.
The win resulted in United climbing four places up the table and moving within one point of the night's opponents while also ending a run of pretty dire form before the match began after winning just one of the past six outings. Next up for the Red Devils is Southampton at Old Trafford next Monday while Sunderland host rock bottom Leicester City at The Stadium of Light.