Jan Kirchhoff made his long-awaited comeback from injury but was unable to inspire Sunderland Under-23s to victory.
Elliott Dickman's side were on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United Under-23s in the Premier League 2 clash at Eppleton Colliery Welfare, in Hetton.
Kirchhoff has been back in full training for two-and-a-half weeks but this was his first appearance, completing 64 minutes on his return to action.
The German, who looked comfortable on his return, had been out of action since December after suffering a cartilage tear in his knee.
His return is a welcome boost for manager David Moyes ahead of the crunch Premier League game with Burnley a week on Saturday.
It was an eventful start to proceedings for Kirchhoff, who was named in the starting line-up alongside Donald Love, Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman.
Within the opening five minutes the former Bayern Munich man was on the ground in a heap. United's Scott McTominay with a crunching challenge on the midfielder.
There were gasps from the crowd but Kirchhoff was quickly to his feet.
The visitors - last season's Premier League 2 champions - had the better of the opening exchanges but clear chances were few and far between.
Max Stryjek did well to save from Devonte Redmond, the keeper spreading himself well to keep the scores level after the Sunderland defence was split wide open.
Sunderland assistant manager Paul Bracewell and keeper Jordan Pickford watched on from the stands, keeping a close eye on the first team players involved in proceedings.
Sunderland struggled to get going in the early stages, with Stryjek again called upon to keep the Red Devils at bay, diving to his left to deny Jusli Harrop.
The hosts broke quickly up the other end, Lynden Gooch carving out enough room to get a shot away, Kieran O'Hara with a smart save with his legs.
United took the lead 27 minutes in from the spot, Donald Love conceding a soft penalty for a foul on Harrop. Demetri Mitchell opening the scoring sending Stryjek the wrong way.
Within six minutes it was 2-0. McTominay doubling the lead courtesy of a deflected effort off George Brady flying past Stryjek from 20-yards.
Josh Maja went close to halving the deficit but United escaped.
Sunderland should have scored through Gooch three minutes before the break but he could only hit the post after good work from Rees Greenwood.
Elliott Dickman's side were poor in the first half, with United full value for their 2-0 lead.
Half time: Sunderland U23s 0 Manchester United 23s 2
Dickman made one change at the break, with Joel Asoro on for Maja as Sunderland looked to find a way back into the game.
There was little to shout about in the early stages of the second half, with both teams struggling to carve out any clear opportunities.
The game livened up on the hourmark, with Kirchhoff going close after dispossesing one of the United midfielders before jinking his way into the box and shooting just wide.
Within a minute, the midfielder found himself booked along with McTominay after an altercation, with Greenwood and Pulle booked shortly after.
Kirchhoff played 64 minutes before being replaced by Elliot Embleton, the midfielder gaining valuable minutes on his return from injury.
Manchester United wrapped up the win in the 71st minute, Redmond scoring from close range after a goalmouth scramble to make it 3-0 to the visitors.
There was a late rally from Sunderland, Honeyman should have done better, his effort straight at O'Hara but in truth it was a comfortable night for the visitors, who had Pulle sent off late
on for a second yellow card.
Honeyman did get on the score sheet in added on time, with a close range finish.
Full time: Sunderland U23s 1 Manchester United 23s 3
Sunderland U23s: Stryjek, Love, Hume, Kirchhoff (Embleton, 64), Brady, Brotherton, Honeyman, E.Robson, Maja (Asoro, 45), Gooch, Greenwood (Molyneux, 82).
Subs Not Used: Robson, Talbot.
Booked: Kirchhoff (60), Greenwood (64), Love (70)
Goals: Honeyman (90)
Manchester United U23s: O'Hara, Ulosunde (Warren, 82), Mitchell, Tuanzebe (C), Borthwick-Jackson, Pulle, Harrop, Willock, Redmond (Bouhi 85), McTominay, Gribbin (Keliiwde, 85)
Subs Not Used: Scott, Johnstone.
Booked: McTominay (60), Pulle (64)
Off: Pulle (90)
Goals: Mitchell (27), McTominay (33), Redmond (71)
Referee: Mr P. Wright