Man United gallop into distance
Manchester United moved a step closer to the Premier League title after Ryan Giggs' late goal sealed a 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers that moved Alex Ferguson's side 15 points clear at the top of the table.
Giggs, who was making his 999th appearance in senior football, struck in the 80th minute after Rafael da Silva had given the visitors a first-half lead.
QPR posed little threat and remain at the foot of the table, having rarely looked capable of moving towards the 37-point survival target set by manager Harry Redknapp.
Rangers face a long, hard battle against relegation, while for United, the remaining weeks of the season look like being a steady march towards their 20th league championship.
Their lead could be cut when second-place Manchester City face Chelsea on Sunday, but with 11 games remaining, it is hard to see how they might concede their current advantage.
The only blemish on a routine afternoon for United was a first-half injury to Robin van Persie that forced the striker out of the game.
Redknapp had taken his side away to Dubai last week for some warm weather training and a break from the pressure of their increasingly desperate relegation battle.
But if they returned refreshed, they were soon handed a harsh reality check as United immediately took control of the game and went in search of the victory that would increase the sense of resignation at the Etihad Stadium.
Michael Carrick and Giggs quickly assumed control of midfield and while Ferguson's side failed to make too many clear-cut chances in the opening quarter of the game, it was apparent they were in control.
Nani headed wastefully wide from Ashley Young's free-kick early on when he should have tested Rangers goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
And when Cesar was called into action moments later, he reacted well to tip over Javier Hernandez's opportunistic back header.
However, the Brazil international had little chance of repelling compatriot Rafael's strike when the United full-back made the 23th-minute breakthrough.
And in keeping with Rangers' problems this season, they were guilty of handing the visitors the opportunity to take the lead.
First Adel Taarabt lost possession in midfield, allowing Giggs to release van Persie on the right-hand side of the Rangers penalty area, from where the striker hit a strong angled shot that Cesar could only beat away.
Then Taarabt was slow to react as he failed to track Rafael's run, allowing the full-back to send a glorious first-time shot high into the roof of Cesar's net from 25 yards.
From that point onwards it was always going to be difficult for Redknapp's side to get back into the game, although they did pose a threat from set-pieces, with Christopher Samba seeing a downward header cleared off the line by the impressive Rafael.
United needed a second goal to kill off Rangers' resistance but they were unable to add to their tally before halftime, with Cesar saving superbly from van Persie and Nemanja Vidic heading narrowly wide.
Van Persie hobbled off four minutes before the break but that was Ferguson's only concern after a one-sided first half.
And there was little to concern the United manager after the restart, although QPR did show more fight and, when Loic Remy was brought on, looked more capable of testing the United back four.
The France striker's 64th-minute shot brought an excellent diving save from David De Gea – one of the few occasions the United goalkeeper was tested – while Samba again came close with a header from a corner.
Giggs made sure of the victory in the 80th minute when he collected Nani's pass and struck an angled shot across Cesar and into the far corner of the goal to move his side closer to the title.