Premier League - United open up 12-point lead

Premier League, Old Trafford - Manchester United 2 (Giggs 13, Van Persie 45+1) Everton 0.

Nine months on from a 4-4 draw against Everton at Old Trafford that saw Manchester United effectively relinquish their title, Sir Alex Ferguson's side defeated the same opposition 2-0 to all but confirm they will be named champions of England for a 20th time this May.

Manchester City's awful 3-1 defeat at Southampton on Saturday had given United the opportunity to extend their lead to 12 points with 12 games remaining and they accepted it enthusiastically, Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie both scoring in the first half to inflict only a fourth defeat of the season on Everton.

Giggs's goal was another personal milestone for the midfielder as it ensured he had scored in 23 consecutive seasons of league football, and while this is far from the best United team he has been a member of, the paucity of quality among their rivals means he will likely collect a remarkable 13th top flight winner's medal.

Everton fought gamely, but with Phil Jones negating their prime threat, Maroune Fellaini, in an effective piece of man-marking, David Moyes's side were unable to pose any kid of consistent threat and finish the weekend in sixth place, two points behind Arsenal and six behind Spurs in the race for the final Champions League place.

While United defied expectations they would field a weakened side ahead of their Champions League contest with Real Madrid on Wednesday, Everton were forced to deviate from their first XI when Sylvain Distin injured himself in the warm-up and Johnny Heitinga was required in a now uncertain central defence.

The out-of-form Dutchman was soon exposed by his compatriot Van Persie as the striker ran in behind him to meet a neat pass from Wayne Rooney, swerved around Tim Howard with a lovely touch and then inexplicably thumped his right-footed shot off the post when an open goal presented itself.

However, after 13 minutes Van Persie did make a decisive contribution to the contest. Antonio Valencia headed the ball into the box and Van Persie all too easily muscled his way past Heitinga to pop a pass square for Giggs. The midfielder took a touch to kill the ball and then converted with his right foot off the inside of the near post.

Everton, looking to maintain their challenge for Champions League football, threatened in bursts with Leon Osman prompting from deep and having one excellent effort palmed round the post by David De Gea. But Victor Anichebe was unable to take advantage of two promising openings - the second of which saw him dispossessed by Rafael just as he was shaping to shoot - and the usually destructive Fellaini was being shackled by Jones.

United were far from dominant - their default setting this season it seems - yet in first half injury time they doubled their lead. Everton's defensive line was too high and too disjointed, giving Van Persie a pocket of space from which to run onto a lovely poked through-ball from Rafael, round Howard again and this time slip his shot home right-footed despite Heitinga's efforts to slide in and keep it out.

The league leaders' advantage should have been extended in the second half when Jonny Evans saw his header saved from a corner, Howard block the follow-up and then a third attempt cleared off the line by substitute Nikica Jelavic, while Howard produced a fantastic save to tip over a stunning volley from Tom Cleverley soon after.

Everton remained positive, Jelavic going close with a low effort from the edge of the box after substitute Chris Smalling had committed an error, while Van Persie could have added a third when dragging his shot wide of the far post following a square pass from Giggs.

United's performance was unspectacular, but as so often this season unspectacular proved to be more than enough as Ferguson's side moved ever closer to yet another league title, opening up the biggest gap they have enjoyed at the top since May 2001.


Robin van Persie (Manchester United) - He has had better games but you can't argue with a goal and an assist. Van Persie decided the game in United's favour again.


MAN UTD: De Gea 7, Rafael 8, Vidic 7, Evans 8, Evra 7, Valencia 6, Jones 8, Cleverley 6, Giggs 7, Rooney 7, Van Persie 8. Subs: Carrick 7, Smalling 6.

EVERTON: Howard 7, Neville 6, Jagielka 7, Heitinga 5, Baines 6, Gibson 6, Osman 7, Mirallas 6, Fellaini 5, Pienaar 6, Anichebe 5. Subs: Jelavic 6, Naismith 5.