London: Manchester United moved a step closer to regaining the Premier League trophy with a comfortable 2-0 win away at lowly Stoke on Sunday afternoon.
An early goal from Michael Carrick and a second-half Robin van Persie penalty wrapped up all three points for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, but they were rarely troubled by a disappointing Potters side who now find themsleves more deeply embroiled in a relegation fight to stay in England’s top flight.
United made four changes to the side that was defeated 2-1 by rivals Manchester City on Monday, with Antonio Valencia, Shinji Kagawa, Chicharito and Nemanja Vidic all coming into the starting XI. Potters chief Tony Pulis also rung the changes after his side were well beaten by Aston Villa last time out, welcoming Charlie Adam, Glenn Whelan and Andy Wilkinson back into the first team.
It took just four minutes for the champions-elect to take the lead, as the Potters failed miserably to clear a Van Persie corner.
After several hacks at the ball by the home defenders, it eventually fell to Carrick, who toe-poked into the corner of the net from the edge of the six-yard box to give the league leaders an early advantage.
That was United’s 100th goal of the season in all competitions, but they did not look like adding to that tally for the rest of the opening period.
In fact, a Robert Huth header from a free-kick aside, neither team created any opportunities of note in what was a flat and uninspiring first 45 minutes.
The second started much brighter, however, with the visitors’ attacking trio of Wayne Rooney, Van Persie and Chicharito forming a dangerous unit and causing several problems to Stoke’s backline.
The home side also improved their intensity and created several half-chances, notably when Jonathan Walters blazed over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box just 10 minutes into the second half.
Strikes from distance from Adam and Kenwyne Jones also forced De Gea into action on the hour mark, but five minutes later the game was up as United were awarded a penalty.
It came after right-back Wilkinson clumsily felled Van Persie in the area, and the Dutch striker stepped to powerful place the spot kick past a helpless Begovic to double the visitors` advantage, and end a personal Premier League barren spell dating back to mid-February.
The game looked to be up for Stoke, but with 10 minutes left they stirred into action, and almost got themselves back into the contest through captain Ryan Shawcross.
The defender found himself free at the far post and launched himself at a Adam free kick, but De Gea reacted sharply to get down to his right and turn his effort around the post.
Pulis threw on Peter Crouch and former United striker Michael Owen in the closing stages in a bid to mount an unlikely comeback, but the Potters failed to muster any real openings for their former England strike partnership, and slipped to a second consecutive home defeat which leaves their Premier League survival hopes in the balance.