Wayne Rooney (left) scores against Sunderland. Photo: Reuters
MANCHESTER United stayed in control of the English Premier League by beating Sunderland 3-1 on Saturday, keeping Manchester City at arm's length following the champions' impressive win at Newcastle by the same score.
Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney - United's in-form strike partnership - teamed to preserve United's six-point lead, both scoring at Old Trafford to add to a sublime strike by midfielder Tom Cleverley.
City recovered from its agonising derby loss to United last weekend by winning at St James' Park, courtesy of goals by Sergio Aguero, Javi Garcia and Yaya Toure, but United's victory ensures Alex Ferguson's side will be top at Christmas.
''Some of our football was very good and we could have scored lots of goals," Ferguson said.
''We will try to keep the momentum going and consistency going.''
Liverpool's resurgence ended with a surprise 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa, Everton drew 1-1 at Stoke in a match marred by an apparent headbutt from visiting midfielder Marouane Fellaini on Ryan Shawcross, and Queens Park Rangers climbed off the foot of the table by beating Fulham 2-1 for their first victory in 17 matches this season.
Reading occupies the bottom spot ahead of its home match against Arsenal on Monday.
Also on Saturday, Norwich claimed a fifth-straight home win by beating Wigan 2-1, lifting the team into seventh place and only two points off the Champions League positions.
With van Persie and Rooney firing in the goals, United looks an unstoppable force.
Van Persie's 12th goal of the season - the equal-highest in the league with Swansea midfielder Michu - set the 20-time champions on their way in the 16th minute and Cleverley made it 2-0 three minutes later.
Van Persie set up Rooney to wrap up the win in the 59th minute, giving United breathing space and Ferguson a chance to substitute captain Nemanja Vidic for his first game since September.
Frazier Campbell's 72nd-minute consolation against his former club sparked a late fightback by Sunderland that didn't produce any more goals.
City had put the pressure on hours earlier, producing some fine football to take a 2-0 lead at half-time through Aguero's tap-in and Garcia's header from a corner.
The champion conceded a header by Demba Ba early in the second half and then had to weather an onslaught by Newcastle before Toure clinched victory 12 minutes from time.
''The season is long. He [Ferguson] knows football better than me. He knows that this championship is not finished,'' City manager Roberto Mancini said.