Wayne Rooney’s penalty helped Manchester United beat Sunderland after the visitors’ Wes Brown was sent off in bizarre circumstances at Old Trafford.
Rooney scored after a foul on Radamel Falcao, for which Brown was dismissed and not John O’Shea, despite protests from the visitors.
United added a second when Rooney headed in after Adnan Januzaj’s shot was parried into his path.
The victory reasserted the home side’s challenge for a top-four place.
United moved up to third place in the Premier League as they claimed an 11th home win out of 14 in the top-flight so far this season.
However, Brown’s red card emerged as the talking point as the Old Trafford side finally earned a breakthrough to go with their improved second half urgency.
Falcao controlled an Ander Herrera cross beautifully in the box and, as he turned in between former United defenders Brown and O’Shea, looked to have been pulled by the latter.
Referee Roger East red-carded Brown and, despite the official speaking to his assistants via his headset, his original decision stood. The fourth official for the game was Martin Atkinson, who was criticised for his refereeing when Chelsea drew with Burnley last week.
After the match, the referees’ body in English football released a statement claiming East had seen contact from both O’Shea and Brown on Falcao.
It added that East chose to dismiss Brown and not O’Shea because he thought the former had fouled Falcao while he was in the act of shooting.
Coincidentally, East’s decision occurred on the same day as video technology trials during competitive matches were put back at least 12 months at a meeting of the game’s lawmakers.
While there may be controversy over the sending off, there could be little argument over a result that leaves the Black Cats three points above the relegation zone.
United dominated possession and were initially frustrated by the massed ranks of the visitors, who had gone close to taking an early lead when Connor Wickham’s shot was saved by David de Gea.
The home crowd offered a sign of their frustration at their side’s failure to find a cutting edge in attack with a chorus of disapproval when a United corner ended up with a back-pass to De Gea.
The home side almost gave the Old Trafford faithful the goal they craved when a Young shot across goal ricocheted off O’Shea and crossbar before Herrera headed wide from the rebound.
A Marcos Rojo shot from a corner was cleared from the goalmouth by Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson and, even though United had 71% of possession in the first half, they could not find a way through.
The ineffective Angel Di Maria was replaced by the lively Januzaj at the break and he powered a shot wide as United began to exert a greater threat.
But the penalty incident gave United the chance to score and Rooney, playing in a forward role, made no mistake as he avoided going nine league games without scoring for the first time since joining from Everton in 2004.
The England striker added a second when he nodded in after Januzaj’s shot was parried by keeper Costel Pantilimon.