United win at Sunderland

Manchester United moved 18 points clear at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.

Sunderland's Titus Bramble (C) and Manchester United's, Robin van Persie (L) during the English Premier League football match between Sunderland and Manchester United on March 30, 2013. Picture: AFP/GRAHAM STUART

LONDON - Manchester United moved 18 points clear at the top of the Premier League, for a few hours at least, when they won 1-0 at Sunderland on Saturday thanks to a first-half own goal from Titus Bramble.

United, closing in on their 20th title and their fifth in the last seven seasons, went ahead after 27 minutes when Robin van Persie ended a jinking run on the left with a shot that took a deflection off Bramble's thigh leaving Black Cats keeper Simon Mignolet stranded.

Van Persie, who has scored 19 league goals this season but not found the net since a 2-0 win over Everton on 10 February, told Sky Sports he would be claiming the strike.

"Of course, no question about it. It's been a while so it's nice to score again and it was an important goal," the Dutchman said.

United midfielder Michael Carrick, named man of the match, added: "I thought we played some really good football and controlled the game without creating all the scoring opportunities we would have liked.

"They are fighting for their lives but we defended well and are delighted with the three points."

It was United's seventh successive league win, their sixth league game without conceding and their 25th win from their 30 league matches - a record number of victories in the top flight at this stage of the season since league football began in 1888.

United have also now scored in their last 18 unbeaten league matches and have 77 points, 18 clear of second-placed champions Manchester City who were playing Newcastle United at the Etihad Stadium (3 pm British Time).

Manager Alex Ferguson, whose side host City in their next league game on 8 April after visiting Chelsea in an FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday, praised his players.

He told the BBC: "It was a battle in the second half and you have to give Sunderland credit as they had a real go at us.

"We picked up two or three injuries and our goalkeeper was hurt so it was a real battling performance. We've got to win four games out of the last eight and it's important we focus on the Manchester City game which is next at home."

Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill told Sky: "I can't fault my players for the way they played in the second half, but we were too tentative in the first half and that comes from a lack of confidence from not winning games."

Despite the narrow winning margin, United were never seriously troubled by the home side who rarely found any penetration to unsettle the defence.

Sunderland, without a win in their last eight, ended the match in 16th place, four points clear of the drop zone with the four teams below them still to play.

Besides the City v Newcastle match, the three other teams chasing a top-four finish were all in action later with third- placed Chelsea at Southampton, fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur at Swansea City and fifth-placed Arsenal at home to second-from-bottom Reading.