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27 Dec 2010

Dimitar Berbatov scored twice as Manchester United eased past Sunderland to stay firmly in control of the Premier League title race.

The Bulgarian headed home Wayne Rooney's cross early on and United dominated the match from that moment.

Berbatov also hit the post with a drive and Anderson crashed a shot against the bar as United created chances at will.

After the break, Berbatov made it 2-0 with a deflected shot from just inside the box to wrap up a comfortable win.

With Arsenal and Chelsea meeting each other on Monday, league leaders United went into the game looking to increase the pressure on their London rivals by extending their points advantage over them.

That they did just that will have delighted boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who stated on Christmas Eve that the title race was a three-way battle between his side and those two teams from the capital.

Manchester City would argue they are also involved, having secured a Boxing Day win over Newcastle to move into second place, two points behind their neighbours - although they have played two games more.

But there can be little doubt that United hold the ascendancy at the moment as they swept aside a Sunderland team that somehow survived an opening salvo that could have put Ferguson's men way out of reach before half-time.

Berbatov - who had been restored to the starting line-up, along with Ryan Giggs - gave United the lead inside five minutes.

Giggs was instrumental in the build-up, bursting through the midfield before laying the ball off for Rooney, who crossed to the far post for Berbatov to dispatch.

Sunderland, who have kept nine clean sheets this season but were always likely to struggle without seven first-team regulars, had no chance to regroup.

An onslaught ensued, with Giggs and Rooney at the heart of it, but somehow United could not double their advantage.

Rooney went close with an exquisite chip that drifted just wide before Berbatov went even closer with a fierce effort that cannoned back off the post.

Anderson then cracked a drive against the bar, Rooney failed to properly connect with a shot from inside the box and Berbatov slammed an effort into the side netting.

As Sunderland clung on, keeper Craig Gordon did well to block a Giggs shot with his legs and later, Anderson fired wide before the Brazilian also wasted a chance when a poor touch robbed him off a shooting chance.

Straight after the interval Sunderland managed their first meaningful effort on goal when Asamoah Gyan blasted over from the angle.

It was not to be the start of a Sunderland comeback, however, as United hit back.

A brilliant block by Anton Ferdinand kept out Andersen's shot but shortly afterwards United got the goal their play had deserved.

Andersen played a superb disguised pass to Berbatov and this time Anton Ferdinand was unlucky as the shot was deflected in off his body.

Berbatov looking for his hat-trick - and what would be his 15th goal of the season - continued to press and he tested Gordon with a smart volley on the turn after flicking the ball up for himself.

With 12 minutes remaining Sunderland managed to get a shot on target for the first time but United keeper Edwin van der Sar was easily equal to Boudewijn Zenden's effort.

The home side were happy to play possession football after that and closed out the game with ease - keeping plenty in reserve while sending out a clear signal of their intent to regain their title.


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