BLACKBURN ROVERS 0, MANCHESTER UNITED 2.
Manchester United took a gigantic step towards defending their Barclays Premier League title on the ground where they last season secured their record-breaking 19th championship.
The Reds overcame a tricky obstacle at Blackburn Rovers, where they had won on only two previous visits to Ewood Park, to open what could prove a decisive five-point advantage over their rivals from the blue half of the city.
It was a night in which they often lived dangerously before sealing victory through two late goals from Antonio Valencia and substitute Ashley Young as the victors taunted their rivals whose title challenge continues to disintegrate.
Only nine minute remained when Valencia struck the decisive blow at a time when it looked as though United might have to settle for a draw.
The Ecuador international again proved what an important figure he is as he scored his sixth goal of an injury-hit campaign underlining Sir Alex Ferguson’s belief he would be a key figure in the title run-in.
Young confirmed United’s victory five minutes later enabling them to see out the remainder of the game as their fans taunted their Mancunian rivals.
Yet before that electrifying finale, it was far from a comfortable passage as United at times lives dangerously.
That was something Ferguson acknowledged saying: “We had to persevere, but in the end got our rewards.
“We were on top and had them under the cosh without making clear-cut chances. And we had to be wary of them as they are dangerous on the break.
“The goals coming so late was important and typifies our club.”
Three times in the opening half they were indebted to goalkeeper David de Gea for ensuring United reach the break on level terms as he produced superb saves to deny Junior Hoilett, Marcus Olsson and Grant Hanley.
Ferguson also applauded his Spanish keeper continuing: “David has progressed and grown in stature and confidence. We always knew he had ability.
“He made three great saves in the first half to keep us in the game.”
United enjoyed massive territorial advantage, but it was Rovers who possessed the cutting edge the Reds lacked.
Javier Hernandez was denied by the upright early on as the ball then struck the back of goalkeeper Paul Robinson who managed to grab it on the goalline.
Jonny Evans shot weakly at Robinson while Phil Jones’ diving header flew narrowly wide.
Robinson saved well to keep out Wayne Rooney’s free kick and a shot from Rafael da Silva early in the second period.
Rovers weathered the storm and thought they had taken the lead midway through the second period when Morten Gamst Pedersen had a goal ruled out.
As Rovers celebrated, the referee’s assistant signalled to indicated Steve Nzonzi’s cross had gone out of play before he pulled it back to Pedersen.
The breakthrough came in the 81st minute when Valencia cut in from the right and powered home a terrific cross-cum-shot into the far corner in front of 7,000 delirious United fans in the Darwen End.
Valencia then turned provider cutting in again from the flank and squaring the ball to Young who stepped inside to create space before powering a shot low to the left of Robinson.
United were home and dry, but it had been far from a straightforward victory.
And Ferguson would not be drawn on the importance of the victory adding that Sunday’s home game against QPR is the only game they are focusing on.
He did concede, however, that United have now scored more goals than City and slashed the goal-difference deficit from 18 to one over their rivals as their campaign continues to gather momentum at a time when their rivals are losing it.