Stoke 0-2 Manchester United
Manchester United moved to within seven points of securing a 20th league title with a routine win that pushed Stoke further towards the relegation zone.
Robin van Persie made sure of the points with a second-half penalty that ended a run of 10 games without a goal.
That came after Michael Carrick had given United the perfect start, prodding home from a scrappy corner.
The result leaves Stoke only three points above the bottom three, having won two of the last 17 league matches.
This was a performance and victory typical of United's season, one that owed more to perspiration than inspiration. With it, Sir Alex Ferguson's side once again open up a 15-point gap at the top of the Premier League.
Stoke, however, are falling down the division.
One victory in their past 14 matches, one clean sheet in 15 league games, one point from seven matches - the statistics read like relegation form for Tony Pulis's men. And while a defeat by United may not decide their fate, crucial matches against Queens Park Rangers, Norwich and Sunderland in the weeks ahead, almost certainly will.
Ferguson took nothing for granted, however. Consecutive defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea had hurt, but from the moment Carrick put United ahead there was never a chance of the champions elect losing a third successive match for the first time since May 2001.
United's attacking line-up bristled with attacking menace - Shinji Kagawa provided the vision, Wayne Rooney the craft from deep and Van Persie the quick feet and eye for goal.
Yet, when the opening goal did come, it was from an altogether more straightforward source, as Carrick toe-poked a low shot into the bottom corner after Van Persie's right-wing corner had been helped on by Phil Jones.
It was United's 100th goal of the season and it seemed the 101st would follow soon after, as Rooney stung Asmir Begovic's palms with a rasping drive and then fizzed a free-kick just wide of the goalkeeper's right-hand post as half-time approached.
But Stoke tackled, battled, denied space - Robert Huth heading a free-kick a yard wide and Kenwyne Jones making a nuisance of himself. The work-rate was admirable too, City players often doubling up on United's main threats like Kagawa, while Van Persie found he had unwelcome, unstinting company.
Jonathan Walters scooped his shot over early in the second half, United goalkeeper David de Gea held a drilled effort from Charlie Adam before Jones rifled another effort over, but United weathered the storm. Van Persie found space to collect Hernandez's clever pass, only to steer his shot into the side-netting from a tight angle.
If that was a warning shot, the decisive strike came soon after. Once again Van Persie found space, he bedazzled Andy Wilkinson by cutting in, feinting and twitching his way into the box, where he was brought down by the Stoke defender for a clear penalty.
The wind blew the ball off the spot as Van Persie stepped up to end his 751-minute goal drought, but the Dutchman would not be denied, tucking his shot low beyond Begovic's left hand and into the corner of the net. He ran to Ferguson on the touchline, where the pair embraced knowing the league title is almost United's.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
"We are a game closer - the important thing is not to take our eye off the ball. Coming here is always a difficult game, with the wind blowing the ball all over the place. But the players stood up to that, they persevered and it was an important victory. Robin [Van Persie] showed fantastic composure and concentration and he hit the perfect penalty - it was a great celebration. I thought Wayne Rooney looked very confident, he needs a little boost in his confidence. He is like any other player that doesn't hit the heights that people expect, or that he sets for himself, he needs a little confidence boost."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis:
"We shot ourselves in the foot. We conceded from a set piece early on, that just settled United and that took the steam out of us. For the second goal, the penalty, if Andy [Wilkinson] stays on his feet you've always got a chance at 1-0. Two poor goals have just killed the game for us. "
- 01 Begovic
- 02 Cameron (Jerome - 71' Booked )
- 04 Huth
- 17 Shawcross
- 28 Wilkinson
- 30 Shotton
- 06 Whelan
- 15 Nzonzi
- 16 Adam
- 09 Jones (Crouch - 84' )
- 19 Walters (Owen - 77' )
- 29 Sorensen
- 08 Palacios
- 18 Whitehead
- 21 Kightly
- 10 Owen
- 25 Crouch
- 33 Jerome
- 01 De Gea
- 03 Evra
- 04 Jones
- 05 Ferdinand
- 15 Vidic
- 07 Valencia Booked
- 16 Carrick
- 26 Kagawa
- 10 Rooney
- 14 Hernandez (Welbeck - 77' )
- 20 Van Persie
- 13 Lindegaard
- 06 Evans
- 12 Smalling
- 28 Buttner
- 11 Giggs
- 23 Cleverley
- 19 Welbeck
Live Text Commentary
Full Time The final whistle is blown by the referee.87:45
Shot by Glenn Whelan from outside the box goes over the net.85:42
Free kick taken by David De Gea.85:42 Booking
Booking Cameron Jerome is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.85:29
Nemanja Vidic fouled by Cameron Jerome, the ref awards a free kick.84:10
Shot by Ryan Shotton from a long way out goes over the target.83:31 Substitution
Substitution Peter Crouch joins the action as a substitute, replacing Kenwyne Jones.81:55
Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Robin van Persie played to the near post, Headed effort from deep inside the penalty area by Michael Carrick goes harmlessly over the crossbar.81:03
Short corner taken by Glenn Whelan from the left by-line.80:21
Cameron Jerome fouled by Patrice Evra, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick crossed right-footed by Steven Nzonzi from right channel, save by David De Gea.79:04
Unfair challenge on Michael Carrick by Charlie Adam results in a free kick. David De Gea restarts play with the free kick.76:56 Substitution
Substitution Danny Welbeck joins the action as a substitute, replacing Javier Hernandez.76:29 Substitution
Substitution Michael Owen comes on in place of Jonathan Walters.72:06
Jonathan Walters concedes a free kick for a foul on Phil Jones. Direct free kick taken by David De Gea.71:24
Javier Hernandez is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Free kick taken by Robert Huth.70:20 Substitution
Substitution Cameron Jerome comes on in place of Geoff Cameron.69:32
Ryan Shotton takes a shot. Save by David De Gea.65:59 Goal scored
Goal! - Robin van Persie - Stoke 0 - 2 Man Utd Robin van Persie scores a placed penalty. Stoke 0-2 Man Utd.65:02
Unfair challenge on Robin van Persie by Andy Wilkinson results in a Penalty.63:38
Asmir Begovic takes the free kick.
Booking Antonio Valencia goes into the referee's book.63:21
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Charlie Adam by Nemanja Vidic.62:18
Ryan Shotton challenges Javier Hernandez unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed by Wayne Rooney, Kenwyne Jones makes a clearance.61:34
Effort from outside the penalty box by Kenwyne Jones goes wide right of the target.60:43
Charlie Adam takes a shot. David De Gea makes a save.58:04
Drilled left-footed shot by Charlie Adam. Save by David De Gea.56:24
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jonathan Walters by Phil Jones. Direct free kick taken by Asmir Begovic.54:29
Jonathan Walters takes a shot from just inside the penalty box which clears the bar.52:59
The referee blows for offside. Ryan Shawcross takes the free kick.52:21
Effort from inside the area by Robin van Persie misses to the left of the goal.50:49
Headed effort from inside the area by Kenwyne Jones misses to the left of the goal.50:20
Wayne Rooney challenges Kenwyne Jones unfairly and gives away a free kick. Asmir Begovic takes the free kick.47:35
Corner taken right-footed by Wayne Rooney to the near post, Kenwyne Jones manages to make a clearance.45:01
The referee starts the second half.45:00 +2:49 Half time
Half Time It is the end of the first-half.45:00 +1:31
Charlie Adam takes a inswinging corner from the right by-line to the near post, Ryan Shawcross has an effort at goal from close in which goes wide right of the target.45:00 +0:52
Inswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Charlie Adam, save by David De Gea.44:42
Andy Wilkinson takes a shot. Nemanja Vidic gets a block in.41:42
Unfair challenge on Javier Hernandez by Ryan Shawcross results in a free kick. Wayne Rooney produces a shot on goal direct from the free kick.38:00
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jonathan Walters by Antonio Valencia. Free kick taken by Charlie Adam.33:19
Glenn Whelan gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Wayne Rooney. Wayne Rooney crosses the ball from the free kick right-footed from left channel, free kick awarded for a foul by Javier Hernandez on Andy Wilkinson. Direct free kick taken by Asmir Begovic.30:22
Robin van Persie takes a shot. Asmir Begovic makes a save. Corner taken by Robin van Persie, clearance by Robert Huth.29:21
Shinji Kagawa gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Glenn Whelan. Asmir Begovic restarts play with the free kick.27:03
Free kick awarded for a foul by Javier Hernandez on Ryan Shawcross. Charlie Adam takes the free kick.25:33
Shot from 35 yards by Robin van Persie went wide right of the net.22:57
Wayne Rooney takes the inswinging corner, Close range header by Michael Carrick goes wide of the left-hand upright.20:41
Free kick awarded for a foul by Robert Huth on Javier Hernandez. Direct free kick taken by Wayne Rooney.18:17
Unfair challenge on Charlie Adam by Nemanja Vidic results in a free kick. A cross is delivered by Glenn Whelan, Headed effort from inside the area by Robert Huth misses to the left of the target.17:36
Shot by Geoff Cameron.12:06
Robin van Persie takes a corner.11:16
Shot from 30 yards by Wayne Rooney. Save by Asmir Begovic.9:06
Jonathan Walters produces a left-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the target.5:55
Corner from the right by-line taken by Robin van Persie, Shot from deep inside the area by Patrice Evra goes over the bar.3:13
The assist for the goal came from Phil Jones.3:13 Goal scored
Goal! - Michael Carrick - Stoke 0 - 1 Man Utd Michael Carrick finds the back of the net with a goal from inside the penalty area to the bottom left corner of the goal. Stoke 0-1 Man Utd.2:49
Corner taken by Robin van Persie from the right by-line.1:44
Robert Huth concedes a free kick for a foul on Robin van Persie. Michael Carrick takes the direct free kick.1:14
The ball is swung over by Jonathan Walters, save by David De Gea.0:00
The match gets underway.
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