In the end, it was a procession. Manchester United never really had to move out of second gear and when they did put their foot down, invariably they scored.
As simple as their rotation of their midfielders to vacate space and create more for others to receive the ball was, those surrounding Manchester United’s players didn’t know whether to stick or twist.
It wasn’t earth-shattering movement from the likes of Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Herrera and, quite troublingly, Fellaini.
But it was enough to pull at the seams of Sunderland’s structure until it fell apart. And fall apart it did, helped by the unnecessary force of Seb Larsson.
Larsson, industrious as ever without ever wrestling anything resembling control, tried to exert some kind of authority on to Ander Herrera’s shin by applying the footballing law of ball + man = applause. The only problem being it was outlawed when the excessive force rule was brought under Law 12: Fouls and misconduct.
At first look, I actually thought Herrera had fouled Larsson. Seb had clearly got there first, so I assumed it was the Spaniard who was the aggressor and astounded by Craig Pawson producing a red card.
What I’ve seen this season is a side that is at odds with modern football.
On second showing, it immediately became clear why he had sent him off.
It was clear that Larsson was going to win the ball, which he did, but the secondary motion of lifting his studs and following through wasn’t a natural action. Perhaps it was frustration. I mean, who doesn’t feel like kicking Ander Herrera now and again?
But, like I said, it was unwarranted and whether it deserved the card it received, Pawson was within his rights to come to his decision.
That said, if anyone was unsure if he had been wronged, Herrera made everyone aware by hopping around with an arm raised in the air before falling to the floor and holding his leg aloft as if to say “Look, Mammy. The bad man hit me”. His reaction was never going to help his opponent’s cause.
From then on, Sunderland’s brief resistance was no more than a straw house; breached and blown over with ease with only a few sporadic threats from Anchibe and Defoe in response.
When I arrived, I was looking forward to watching David De Gea’s warm-up and pick his game apart, but even my joy at that prospect was cut short as Niall Quinn came over to say hello and deliver the deflating news of the Spaniard’s absence.
Still, if there is joy to be had, it usually comes in the form of Jordan Pickford. It might not have been a game for him to show the full spectrum of his talents, but I cannot enthuse enough about his distribution.
The cleanness and accuracy of his left foot, either from hands or the deck, over mid to long-range distances is nothing short of brilliant. In the lulls between notable action when he’s in possession of the ball, all that could be heard in the press box was me clapping away like a circus seal, every time he dispatched his missiles with unnerving accuracy.
I remarked at the time that the team could do with him pushing up and anchoring the midfield so he could spray balls forward to feed Jermain Defoe in more dangerous areas of the pitch, but I was only half-joking. We should be prepared for monumental bidding war when the inevitable happens.
Others received pass marks. Lee Cattermole is nowhere near his old self yet, but, from his hour on the pitch, he gave enough for us to know he’d been missed.
As a player, he does his job well, but, as a captain and a character, he has the ability to drag others around through games and lifts their performances.
And after having substantial doubts earlier in the season, I seriously believe there’s a player to be shaped out of Didier Ndong, but he is in desperate need of guidance and coaching. A masterclass from Brace would go a long way to making that happen.
But those performances apart, it’s same old, same old. I know it’s easy to be critical, but it also becomes difficult to defend. To me, there has been no sign of improvement, no indication of a clear game plan to nullify and exploit opponents.
I keep allying myself with the thought it’s been a difficult situation to come into. I look down the coast to Hull and see what Marco Silva is doing and think it isn’t too much to expect a manager create a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
I look at Michael O’Neill and what he has achieved with a Northern Ireland side that is nowhere near to being on par with those left in their wake.
What I’ve seen this season is a side that is at odds with modern football. Too rigid in possession of the ball, relying on fortune or the calamity of others. The defending seems to have been optional, fragile at its best.
Look at the Arsenal game at home. They can be a wonderful side, but one in crisis of late. Yet, when they arrived at the Stadium of Light, I likened it to a game between Millennial football and 1980s.
Further evidence of the gulf was was evident when Lincoln City went to the Emirates with a purpose, proving that you can take the game to a far superior side and win admirers, if not that game. But for a deflected shot in first half injury time, the four leagues separating them was made a mockery of by Danny Cowley’s tactics.
Football is going through changes. There’s a changing of the guard. Near enough a revolution, with Germany leading the way. Klopp, Wagner, Tuchel, Rangnick, Nagelsmann, Schmidt, Favre, the list goes on. Intelligent, innovative, adaptable coaches who have ideas and notions that are clear to the fans.
This is what we want to do. This is how we’re going to do it.
We know we’ve been a runaway train for some time now, with problems never pinned to just one place. Hopefully the crash that is coming very soon is the point to start afresh, with a clear vision and a clear plan on how to implement it.
It’s a chance to reshape the club, and one that cannot be missed.