Manchester United maintained the pressure on Manchester City at the Premier League summit with a comfortable win against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.

Wayne Rooney set them on the way to a victory that restored them to the top of the table - if only for a few hours - with a header inside the first minute.

And after United missed a succession of chances and were denied by QPR keeper Radek Cerny, Michael Carrick settled an entertaining encounter and gave them the winning margin their vast superiority deserved with his first goal in 70 games for United, shortly after half-time.

Ferguson thinks United were 'wasteful'

QPR were tenacious but were eventually outclassed by United's greater quality, as Sir Alex Ferguson's side continued their rehabilitation from their shock Champions League exit with a second successive league win to maintain their pursuit of a 20th title.

With Darren Fletcher ruled out for the foreseeable future through illness, Carrick was paired with Phil Jones in central midfield. And the versatile England teenager could also have got on the scoresheet in a powerful and impressive performance, hitting the woodwork and being halted by Cerny after a surging run.

United still showed occasional signs of frailty in defence without injured captain Nemanja Vidic and with Patrice Evra particularly vulnerable, but they ultimately carried far too much power for QPR, especially with Rooney restored to his familiar attacking role after a spell in midfield.

Did you know?

  • Rooney has now scored against 29 different clubs, including all bar three in the Premier League
  • Man Utd are now unbeaten in their last 10 against QPR winning seven and drawing three
  • It was United's 134th clean sheet in Premier League away matches, more than any other team
  • Michael Carrick's goal was only his third away from home.

The visitors were unchanged from the win against Wolves - but had the lift of the early return of Javier Hernandez on the bench after suffering an ankle injury in the recent win at Aston Villa.

It was Rooney who made the instant impact as he stole in on Antonio Valencia's cross to send a downward header beyond the reach of Cerny in the opening seconds to subdue a typically vibrant atmosphere inside Loftus Road.

United's slick passing was proving too much for QPR in the early exchanges and Cerny needed to dash off his line to block Danny Welbeck after he was played in by Nani.

QPR, however, showed real reserves of resilience to dig their way back into a match that looked well beyond them at the start, with striker Heidar Helguson taking advantage of weakness in United's defence as he headed Joey Barton's cross just over.

For all the typical endeavour of Warnock's side, it was United who showed thrust going forward as they created a succession of chances before the interval.

Jonny Evans headed on to the bar from a corner, while Cerny saved QPR again after 28 minutes when he dived at the feet of Jones after Rooney's incisive pass sent him racing clear.

We need two or three more players - Warnock

Cerny, heroic in QPR's defeat at Liverpool last week, was in outstanding form again as he demonstrated agility and sharp reflexes to save from Valencia as he looked certain to add United's second.

QPR refused to go under in the face of United's attacking threat and created opportunities of their own as the interval approached. United keeper David de Gea blocked Helguson's shot with his legs before Jay Bothroyd's low cross flew agonisingly beyond the stretching Jamie Mackie.

Christmas will be crucial - Carrick

United were in no mood to let any more chances slip away - and they duly punished QPR nine minutes after the break, with more than a little help from the Londoners.

Carrick dispossessed Barton with ease and advanced unchallenged towards the area before scoring with a low shot that Cerny should have made a better attempt to keep out.

Did you know?

  • QPR have kept just one clean sheet in their last 11 that came in their 1-0 win over Chelsea
  • QPR last beat United on New Year's Day in 1992, in the old Division One, when Dennis Bailey scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory at Old Trafford

It was a rare, albeit vital, blemish on Cerny's performance and he was soon distinguishing himself again with a spectacular save from Welbeck, who was promptly removed and replaced by Hernandez.

QPR, understandably, were showing signs of deflation and Jones almost increased their lead further only to strike a post, before Cerny was the barrier once more to save from Nani.

Adel Taarabt and DJ Campbell were introduced in a double change by Warnock as time ran out and created their side's best chance of the game. Taarabt's cross should have been converted by the striker, who somehow put his effort off target from right in front of goal.

It was United's final moment of anxiety - and with the door left ajar in the title race by Manchester City's first defeat of the season at Chelsea on Monday, United will be delighted with another important victory.

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