Match ends, Manchester United 3, Sunderland 1.
Manchester United 3-1 Sunderland
Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored a memorable goal as Manchester United beat struggling Sunderland to record their fourth successive Premier League win.
United were the dominant side - enjoying 63% of possession and having a total of 25 shots on goal - but only a first-half Daley Blind effort separated the teams until the final 10 minutes.
The Dutchman was put through by a delightful Zlatan Ibrahimovic pass and fired low into the bottom-right corner for his first goal of the season, before United doubled their advantage with Paul Pogba setting up Ibrahimovic with eight minutes remaining.
Substitute Mkhitaryan added gloss to the scoreline with a brilliant backheeled 12-yard volley, which manager Jose Mourinho described as "phenomenal", though replays suggested the Armenian was offside.
It is a victory which draws United level with fifth-placed Tottenham, although the north Londoners have a game in hand, against Southampton on Wednesday.
Fabio Borini scored a wonderful late consolation for Sunderland, but defeat - their third in four games - leaves the Black Cats two points adrift of safety.
United find their groove
Both halves belonged to the hosts and the passing statistics emphasised their dominance, with Mourinho's men making 606 passes compared to Sunderland's 177.
But the hosts were unable to shake off the visitors until the introduction of Mkhitaryan after the break added much-needed zip and verve.
Pogba was the stand-out player on the pitch, bossing play from the middle of the field and driving his team forward, and while Ibrahimovic played a part in all three goals it was Mkhitaryan who gave his side an extra dimension in attack.
The 27-year-old's strike was a special one, with the former Borussia Dortmund player, at the Stretford End, acrobatically directing Ibrahimovic's cross into net with the back of his heel.
"It's a pity it was the third goal of the game, not one that won the match because that would've been in Man United history," said Mourinho, who admitted his team were lucky to be ahead in the first half.
"He played for 25 minutes and played well and he's doing great things," added the United manager of the club's summer signing who is now impressing after initially struggling to make an impact.
Sunderland's struggles continue
This was David Moyes' first return to Old Trafford since his sacking as Manchester United manager in 2014.
His team, who have risen from the bottom of the table after a torrid start to the campaign, had their chances, with Victor Anichebe and Borini forcing a double save from David de Gea when the score was goalless.
Sunderland were positive in the first half and competed with the hosts, but paid the price for poor defending after the break, with Didier Ndong ceding possession to the commanding Pogba before the Frenchman put Ibrahimovic through for the second goal.
Scoring has been a problem for the Black Cats this season - they have found the next just five times away from home in the Premier League - and while Jermain Defoe came deep in search for the ball, nothing was created for Sunderland's prime poacher.
Indeed, Sunderland ended the match with just six shots on goal, only three of which were on target.
Former England captain Alan Shearer:
"Mkhitaryan's goal was just outrageous. It was brilliant. To even try that - we should be looking at that for the next six months, it was that good. It was brilliant ability to even try that."
Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright:
"People did doubt Zlatan Ibrahimovic and there were games earlier in the season when he gave possession up too easily, but the quality that he has is showing now.
"If you give him time he can find runners and he looks so dangerous now. He has a lovely relationship going with Paul Pogba."
Man of the Match - Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
What the managers said
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho: "They did well to stop us and we were a bit lucky to be 1-0 in front.
"I didn't like the first-half performance. I was expecting us to start much better. I like the result. I like very much the second half.
"I know David and Sunderland deserved credit for what they did in the first half. Second half we had everything back - intensity, recover the ball high in the pitch, play fast passes and to have players like Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the bench helps.
"These are three important points. Four matches, 12 points - that's what we need."
Sunderland manager David Moyes: "Up until 1-0 we had a good chance to get something out of the game, but we gave away a dreadful second goal and the third was offside.
"We hung in. We sort of stifled them, stuck at it and said if we could hold it at 1-0, they might get nervous in the last 10 minutes but we couldn't do it.
Pogba and Ibrahimovic in tune
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been involved in 14 Premier League goals this season (12 goals, 2 assists) - at least eight more than any other Manchester United player.
- Fabio Borini netted his first Premier League goal since May (against Chelsea).
- Jose Mourinho has won four Premier League games in a row for the first time since April 2015, with Chelsea.
- All three of Paul Pogba's assists in the Premier League this season have been for Ibrahimovic goals.
- Mourinho's Premier League win rate at Man Utd is now 50%, the same as David Moyes' in his tenure at Old Trafford.
Manchester United host Middlesbrough on 31 December before taking on West Ham on 2 January, while Sunderland travel to Burnley on 31 December before hosting Liverpool on 2 January.
- 1de Gea
- 25A Valencia
- 17BlindBooked at 19mins
- 21HerreraSubstituted forFellainiat 84'minutes
- 8MataSubstituted forMartialat 74'minutes
- 14LingardSubstituted forMkhitaryanat 62'minutes
- 23KonéBooked at 90mins
- 3van Aanholt
- 7LarssonSubstituted forKhazriat 83'minutes
- 17NdongSubstituted forLoveat 86'minutes
- 9BoriniBooked at 61mins
- Martin Atkinson
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Manchester United 3, Sunderland 1.
Attempt saved. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Lamine Koné (Sunderland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Lamine Koné (Sunderland).
Goal! Manchester United 3, Sunderland 1. Fabio Borini (Sunderland) right footed shot from outside the box to the top left corner.
Attempt missed. Paul Pogba (Manchester United) header from the centre of the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Henrikh Mkhitaryan with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Donald Love.
Offside, Manchester United. Anthony Martial tries a through ball, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan is caught offside.
Phil Jones (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Victor Anichebe (Sunderland).
Substitution, Sunderland. Donald Love replaces Didier Ndong.
Goal! Manchester United 3, Sunderland 0. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Manchester United) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a cross.
Substitution, Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini replaces Ander Herrera.
Offside, Manchester United. Henrikh Mkhitaryan tries a through ball, but Antonio Valencia is caught offside.
Substitution, Sunderland. Wahbi Khazri replaces Sebastian Larsson.
Goal! Manchester United 2, Sunderland 0. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Paul Pogba with a through ball.
Anthony Martial (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland).
Foul by Daley Blind (Manchester United).
Jermain Defoe (Sunderland) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Anthony Martial (Manchester United).
Fabio Borini (Sunderland) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Offside, Sunderland. Papy Djilobodji tries a through ball, but Jermain Defoe is caught offside.
Foul by Antonio Valencia (Manchester United).
Patrick van Aanholt (Sunderland) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Offside, Manchester United. Paul Pogba tries a through ball, but Anthony Martial is caught offside.
Marcos Rojo (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Victor Anichebe (Sunderland).
Substitution, Manchester United. Anthony Martial replaces Juan Mata.
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by Daley Blind.
Offside, Sunderland. Victor Anichebe tries a through ball, but Jason Denayer is caught offside.
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by Daley Blind.
Offside, Manchester United. Antonio Valencia tries a through ball, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic is caught offside.
Daley Blind (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Jermain Defoe (Sunderland).
Attempt blocked. Ander Herrera (Manchester United) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Paul Pogba.
Attempt blocked. Ander Herrera (Manchester United) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Attempt blocked. Paul Pogba (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Ander Herrera.