Man Utd 2, West Brom 0
Super Sunday gave way to significant Sunday on a day which could prove the most pivotal yet as to the final resting place for this season’s Premier League crown.
Manchester United went back to the top of the table for the first time in five months.
Two goals by Wayne Rooney gave United victory over West Brom at Old Trafford to put them a point clear of neighbours City – 1-0 losers at Swansea.
The Reds were top for little more than 28 hours last month after beating Liverpool, but City regained pole position the following day after winning at Aston Villa.
Although this was far from vintage United, the results proved a defining moment in this titanic struggle between Manchester’s finest.
Albion were the only team to deny United a league win at home last season, but there was never a hint that the 2-2 draw would be repeated.
The Reds had to wait for 35 minutes to break the deadlock and it was no surprise the task fell to Rooney.
Paul Scholes’ superb raking pass from the centre of the pitch found Javier Hernandez lurking on the right edge of the Albion box.
The Mexican looped his cross into the centre where Rooney reacted quicker than anyone else to connect with the ball and send it beyond West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster and into the net from six yards.
Albion were down to 10 men when Rooney struck with his 20th league goal of the campaign.
Albion defender Jonas Olsson, booked for a foul on Rooney four minutes after the interval, was sent off by referee Lee Probert for scything down Hernandez in the 66th minute.
Five minutes later, Ashley Young was needlessly felled by Keith Andrews in the Albion box and Mr Probert pointed to the penalty spot.
Rooney stepped up to send former team-mate Foster the wrong way when he drilled the resulting spot kick into the bottom right corner of the net.
Both teams had other claims for penalties.
Albion’s Peter Odemwingie went down in the United box following an attempted tackle by Patrice Evra, while at the other end, an Evra shot hit the arm of Gareth McAuley.
United should have finished with a far larger winning margin.
Foster made one magnificent save to keep out Young’s deflected shot and Danny Welbeck missed a sitter, firing inches wide after being put clear by Scholes’ defence-splitting 50-yard pass.
Foster palmed away a close range effort from Young, but could only watch when Hernandez sent a crisp shot crashing against a post.
Albion forced two fine saves from United goalkeeper David De Gea to deny Andrews in the first half and substitute Shane Long in the second.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “We should have scored a lot more goals, but the performance was more important and, hopefully, the goals will come later.
“Our two centre-backs, Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, were fantastic. When you have that solid formation, there is no concern about the back and it helps the players in front.
“Wayne’s timing was superb for the first goal. At first I thought he was offside.
“I don’t care about being top just now, but only a few weeks ago we were seven points behind City Now we are a point ahead.”
Albion boss Roy Hodgson said: “The decisive moment was Olsson’s sending off which indirectly led to United’s penalty when we switched Andrews to right-back.
I was pleased with the way we played in the first half until Rooney’s goal.
“We never stopped fighting. There are not many teams of our ilk who will put them under tremendous pressure here. Teams that win here have to survive tremendous pressure.”