Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty gave Manchester United a 1-0 victory over Everton and a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League while Man City tumbled 1-0 at Stoke.
Ronaldo stroked his spot kick past Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard — his former Old Trafford teammate — in the 44th minute on Saturday as the Red Devils won for the seventh league game in a row without conceding.
Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar has now gone an English record 1,120 minutes without letting in a goal.
“It’s a fantastic performance from the boys. I couldn’t believe it when I read that the last (league) goal we conceded was against Arsenal in November,” said United manager Alex Ferguson.
“Van der Sar brings calmness and assurance. Over the last 12 games we have changed the back four I don’t know how many times so you have to give great credit to them.”
The victory means that United is now on 53 points and has a five point advantage over Chelsea and Liverpool,who meet at Anfield on Sunday and have played the same number of matches as United.
Fourth place Aston Villa and fifth place Arsenal lost ground on the leader when they were each held 0-0 at home.
Villa was held by Wigan while the Gunners,held by West Ham,are now 10 points behind and United has a game in hand on Arsene Wenger’s team.
“We gave everything for 90 minutes and restricted them to nothing,” Wenger said. “There was a great desire and I could not fault the spirit,but we did lack some creativity in the final ball and some sharpness because we had played a difficult game on Wednesday night at Everton (a 1-1 draw).”
James Beattie headed home a left-wing cross by Matthew Etherington in first-half injury time to give Stoke the win despite the home side having left back Rory Delap sent off in the 37th minute.
Stoke,which started the day next-to-last in the standings,now has 24 points from 24 games and climbed to 16th. Man City’s 11th defeat of the season means that Mark Hughes’ erratic,mid-standings team has 28 points from 23.
“We just didn’t create enough chances to break them down,” Hughes said. “We had a lot of attack-minded players on the pitch at the end,we looked for every option,but this time it did not work.
“I’ve not heard anything more on our transfer targets,” said Hughes,who added Craig Bellamy to his strikeforce but failed to get Kaka from AC Milan. “Bids are on the table but they have gone no further.”
Tottenham tumbled 3-2 at Bolton where the hosts’ Kevin Davies scored one goal and set up two. Spurs hit back from two goals down to level after two goals by substitute Darren Bent,but Davies netted an 87th-minute winner for his eighth goal of the season.
The struggle to avoid relegation remained tight with the last four clubs all picking up points.
Last-place West Bromwich Albion twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Hull. Although Bernard Mendy and Craig Fagan scored for the home side,Joy Simpson hit back for the visitors and Chris Brunt’s penalty captured a rare away point for the Baggies.
Middlesbrough and Blackburn drew 0-0 to drop to 19th and 18th,and Portsmouth slipped closer to relegation trouble in 15th — only two points away from last place — after losing 3-1 at Fulham,where Erik Nevlund scored twice for the home side.