LONDON, England, December 18 – A first-minute goal from Wayne Rooney sent Manchester United on their way to a 2-0 victory away at Queens Park Rangers Sunday and increased the pressure on Manchester City.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side arrived at Loftus Road knowing a win would lift them a point above City ahead of their local rivals’ clash with Arsenal later Sunday.
And the prospect of climbing to the head of the table for the first time since October proved to be a powerful incentive, with Rooney providing the visitors with the perfect start inside the opening 60 seconds.
Michael Carrick added a second in the 56th minute — his first goal in 70 United games — to provide a timely reminder of his qualities amid speculation Ferguson will strengthen his midfield options in January’s transfer window.
Any concerns about the squad’s strength were put on hold, however, by a convincing win against a Rangers side who remain three points above the relegation zone.
Rooney started the move for the opening goal by heading a loose ball out to Antonio Valencia who worked the byline before crossing towards the England striker, who headed home in front of Rangers defender Luke Young.
Moments later United again cut through the home defence when Nani released Danny Welbeck clear on goal and it took a good save from keeper Radek Cerny to deny the young forward.
And when Nani called Cerny into action again in the ninth minute, it seemed United would wrap up the game long before the half-time interval.
United appeared vulnerable, though, when Rangers did get forward and Jay Bothroyd could easily have cancelled out Rooney’s opening goal after James Mackie easily outpaced Patrice Evra to set up the striker’s shooting chance.
That set the pattern for the first half with United failing to make more of a number of clear openings while Rangers appeared capable of cancelling out the slender advantage.
United centre-back Jonny Evans headed against a post while Phil Jones was denied by another fine save from Cerny after being sent clear by Rooney.
And at the other end, United’s David de Gea matched his opposite number when he saved from Heidar Helguson with his feet.
Although chances were coming frequently for Ferguson’s side, there was a growing concern they might pay the price for their failure to establish a more convincing lead.
Rangers worked hard to contain their opponents but signs of tiredness began to creep in during the second half and Carrick took full advantage of a misplaced pass by Joey Barton to add a second goal in the 56th minute.
Carrick collected the ball on the halfway line and ran unchallenged to the edge of Cerny’s box where he finished beyond the keeper with a well-placed right-footed shot.
Rangers were deflated and could have fallen further behind when Rooney narrowly failed to connect with Valencia’s driven cross.
And substitute Javier Hernandez almost made an immediate impact when he created another chance for Evans within second of his introduction.
Rangers refused to wilt and could have clawed they way back into the game when substitutes Adel Taarabt and DJ Campbell combined in the 75th minute.
Taarabt curled in a low cross towards Campbell, who volleyed over from just five yards despite finding himself unmarked.
That was the last significant scare for United, who eased their way through remainder of the game and came close to a third goal, through Ashley Young.