MAN UNITED 2, STOKE CITY 0
Manchester United were spot on as they defeated Stoke City at Old Trafford to draw level with City at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
Penalties from Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov earned the Reds a win which, together with City’s defeat at Everton, provided another dramatic twist to this compelling campaign.
And it was former United player Darron Gibson who also provided a helping hand scoring the winner for the Toffees against City.
While City remain top of goal difference, United reduced the deficit to six as the title race suddenly hotted up on an icy Mancunian night.
Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted with the composure shown by his side against a resolute Stoke side.
The Reds manager added it could be a significant night in the title race with City losing.
“It is still early doors, the last day of January. March and April will be important and we have City to play in this period,” he explained.
United made four changes from their FA Cup defeat at Liverpool as the unwell David de Gea, Rafael da Silva, Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck lost their starting spots.
As Anders Lindegaard was also injured, Ben Amos was handed a rare Premier League start in goal while there were also recalls for Rio Ferdinand and the front two of Dimitar Berbatov and Hernandez.
Stoke made four changes to the side which lost 10 days earlier at West Brom, their first defeat in five matches.
It was the Potters who made the brighter start as Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones both fired narrowly wide.
United took time to get into their stride and it was not until midway through the opening period when Paul Scholes carved out their first clear-cut chance firing narrowly wide.
Michael Carrick also fired agonisingly wide before United make the breakthrough in the 37th minute when a neat, passing move ended with Ji-Sung Park being upended by Jermaine Pennant and Hernandez coolly scored from the spot, his seventh goal of the season.
United doubled their advantage eight minutes after the restart when Antonio Valencia was hauled down by Walters and this time Berbatov scored from 12 yards as his kick just eluded the dive of keeper Thomas Sorensen for his ninth goal of the campaign.
There were appeals for a third United penalty in the 71st minute when Patrice Evra went sprawling following an ill-time challenge from Andy Wilkinson. It looked a blatant spot kick, but referee Mike Jones waved play on.
Berbatov ought to have added a third goal in stoppage time, but somehow contrived to shoot wide of a near-open goal from a Valencia cross.