IF THIS proves to be Wes Brown’s last appearance at Old Trafford, then it will be a sad finale.
It’s plausible. The 35-year-old is out of contract in the summer and there have to be question marks over how long the ex-Manchester United defender wants to prolong his decorated career.
For more than an hour, Brown had been superb; completely dominating Radamel Falcao and making the wealthy Colombian look distinctly ordinary.
But one immaculate first-touch from Falcao and it all went wrong both for Brown and Sunderland.
There was little contact on Falcao as the striker slalomed between Brown and John O’Shea, but there was probably just enough to justify him going to ground – certainly far more than a number of fouls awarded to Angel Di Maria during the first half.
It was clearly O’Shea who was the principal offender, rather than Brown, but, despite the Sunderland skipper spending a good minute trying to explain that to referee Roger East, the official decided to send the wrong man off.
Regardless of the nuances of any subsequent appeal, Sunderland will have one of their veteran central defenders missing at Hull City on Tuesday.
Brown looked disconsolate as he walked off, despite the warm reception gifted to him by the supporters that retain their affection for him.
But that one moment changed the entire complexion of an encounter where United had looked distinctly uninspiring.
Falcao had offered nothing, Wayne Rooney was sluggish and Di Maria was an utter liability - more adept at losing possession than causing Sunderland problems.
It was no surprise that Di Maria was hooked at the interval, with replacement Adnan Januzaj proving far more of a dangerman.
In that first half, Ashley Young was the only man in United’s ranks who caused hearts to flutter in Sunderland’s ranks.
And while Sunderland had sat too deep and been pinned back following an excellent opening 20 minutes, they had worried United in those early stages - most notably Connor Wickham with a shot well-saved by David De Gea.
Yet the penalty / red card changed everything.
Sunderland didn’t seem to have the belief or ideas of how to get back in the game.
United went on cruise control and the inevitable second goal arrived to wrap up proceedings.
Defeat shouldn’t necessarily be dispiriting for Sunderland. While United were unconvincing, Louis van Gaal’s side have had a habit of grinding out victories at Old Trafford this season - only dropping points in three out of 14 encounters.
But a third loss in four games does put even more importance on Tuesday’s trip to bogey side Hull City, albeit Sunderland’s situation was boosted by defeats for the Tigers, Aston Villa and Burnley yesterday.
Steve Bruce’s men have won their last four meetings against Sunderland. That run needs to come to an abrupt halt.