Manchester United warmed up for their FA Cup quarter-final replay at Chelsea as a Titus Bramble own goal earned them a polished 1-0 Premier League win against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Martin O'Neill's Sunderland side remain perilously close to the relegation spots after another loss. They occupy 16th spot in the standings, only four points clear of third from bottom Aston Villa, in action on Sunday.
United need just 10 more points in their remaining eight fixtures to reclaim the title they relinquished to Manchester City at Sunderland on the final day of last season. It is only a matter of time before the Premier League crown returns to Old Trafford. They could afford to win without Wayne Rooney, who was rested with Chelsea in mind.
United - who visit Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup at lunchtime on Monday for their second game in 48 hours - were dominant throughout the match in setting a new Premier League record of 25 wins from their opening 30 league matches.
No team has achieved that sequence of results and United were never overly stretched against a home side who were disappointing with much of their output.
Sunderland were without David Vaughan, but Stephane Sessegnon started. Vaughan returned early from duty with Wales nursing a groin problem, while striker Sessegnon did not even meet up with Benin because of a similar injury.
Defender Carlos Cuellar was ruled out with the ankle problem he suffered in the 1-1 draw with Norwich and joined captain Lee Cattermole (knee surgery) and striker Steven Fletcher (ankle ligament) in watching the match together in the stands.
United received a triple injury boost before the match with Nani (hamstring), Phil Jones (ankle) and Paul Scholes (knee) all recovering from their knocks.
But only Nani was involved on the bench and he remained there as United kept their options open for Monday's match. Javier Hernandez was excused due to lengthy travels during the international break, but Antonio Valencia was handed a starting slot.
United's only real concern of the day focused on an injury to full-back Rafael, who was replaced by Jonny Evans midway through the first period. He must be rated doubtful to face Chelsea.
David de Gea also needed lengthy treatment after colliding with central defender Nemanja Vidic going for a cross, but both recovered to finish the match.
Alexander Buttner created United's most obvious chance of the opening period when he danced past a couple of home shirts 13 minutes in. He managed to get the break of the ball, but home goalkeeper Simon Mignolet did enough to make the block from his prodded finish.
The visitors finally moved ahead when Robin van Persie earned some space out wide.
He cut into the Sunderland box before walloping an effort across goal. The ball diverted off Phil Bardsley before speeding off the thigh of Bramble to beat the unsuspecting Mignolet, who was left with no chance on 27 minutes.
Sunderland huffed and puffed in the second period without ever testing De Gea in the visiting goal as United held firm courtesy of some stout defending.
United could easily have added a second goal late in the match with a counter-attack, but Mignolet stopped a Van Persie shot after Ashley Young played provider.
There was to be no 20th goal of the season for Van Persie, but the final whistle sounded seconds later to complete another professional day at the office for United.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Michael Carrick (Manchester United) - Superb stuff from the midfielder, who enjoyed a commanding performance at the heart of the visiting midfield.
Sunderland: Mignolet 7, Bardsley 5, Rose 6, O'Shea 6, Bramble 5, N'Diaye 5, Gardner 5, McClean 5, Johnson 5, Sessegnon 6, Graham 5..subs: Larsson 5, Wickham 5, Colback 5
Manchester United: De Gea 7, Rafael 6, Smalling 7, Vidic 7, Buttner 7, Valencia 6, Anderson 6, Carrick 8, Young 7, Kagawa 7, Van Persie 7..subs: Evans 7, Welbeck 6, Cleverley 6