LONDON - Manchester United finally put
space between themselves and the chasing pack when a 2-1 home
win over Stoke City moved Sir Alex Ferguson's side three points
clear at the top of the Premier League on Tuesday.
Goals by Javier Hernandez and Nani either side of a Dean
Whitehead equaliser took unbeaten United to 44 points.
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They are three clear of Manchester City, who have played a
game more. Arsenal, who host City in one of seven more Premier
League games on Wednesday, are third on 39, with Tottenham
Hotspur fourth on 36 and Chelsea fifth on 35.
At the other end of the table there were good wins for
Fulham and Birmingham City, who both began the night in the
Fulham were impressive in sweeping past West Bromwich Albion
3-0 with goals by Simon Davies, Clint Dempsey and Brede
Hangeland - West Brom's fifth successive defeat.
Scott Dann scored a minute from time to secure Birmingham a
2-1 at Blackpool, their first away win of the season.
At Old Trafford Dimitar Berbatov and Ryan Giggs both missed
presentable chances in the early exchanges before United broke
through in the 27th minute.
Nani swept in a low cross and Hernandez, who got both goals
in the 2-1 win at Stoke in October, cleverly flicked it in from
behind his leg.
With Wayne Rooney rested and watching from the stands,
Hernandez and Berbatov shouldered the attacking duties but they
were not overly-busy as the game meandered peacefully amid a
The fans woke up five minutes into the second half though
when poor defending left Whitehead free to head home Tuncay's
cross for Stoke's first Old Trafford goal in 30 years.
United immediately livened up and restored their lead with a
superb curling shot by Nani after 62 minutes.
Stoke, beaten 4-0 and 5-0 on their last two visits to Old
Trafford, were unable to come back a second time and remain
eighth on 27 points.
"It was a difficult type of match... Stoke are such a
determined bunch of lads, they never give in and make it
difficult for every team but we produced some good moments and
our own commitment was very good," Ferguson told Sky Sports.
"We made a few changes tonight to keep the squad motivated
and also to give them enough game time because January is going
to be a big month for us," added Ferguson, who also rested Rio
Ferdinand and Edwin van der Saar.
"You have to have faith and trust in the players and they've
never let me down."
Stoke boss Tony Pulis said: "Whatever team they put out they
have players who can hurt you and they were always a threat.
"If you look at the top five or six clubs they can all make
four or five changes and the players who come in are all similar
to those who were left out."
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