Wayne Rooney grabbed a brace just when Manchester United needed it the most as the Red Devils moved six points clear of the rest at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a 4-0 home demolition of Aston Villa.
The England striker had gone six matches for the title-chasers without hitting the target, but he rediscovered his touch at Old Trafford as United made it six straight league wins to tighten their grip at the top.
Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with his 35th goal of a remarkable season and Carlos Tevez added a second to leave Villa stunned.
With Arsenal claiming a dramatic victory at Bolton, United knew it was important to keep the momentum going.
And they did just that, going 2-0 ahead in the first half to take a firm grip on the match.
Even though Ashley Young went close with a shot in the fourth minute, Villa never looked like ending a miserable run of results at the ground, stretching back 25 years.
That close shave only succeeded in getting United going and Rooney rattled in a shot from the edge of the area that was cleared by Stiliyan Petrov.
Ryan Giggs then slipped the ball through to Tevez in the 10th minute, but Mellberg made a crucial block.
United almost took the lead a minute later when Michael Carrick released Ronaldo. He cut inside, only to see his effort turned around the post by goalkeeper Scott Carson.
Giggs swung in the corner and Brown peeled away from his marker but headed over the bar.
United went ahead in the 17th minute.
Villa failed to clear Giggs' corner and Rio Ferdinand chested the ball into Ronaldo's path, and the Portugal winger clipped an outrageous back-heel through Martin Laursen's legs and beyond Carson.
Considering they had not won at the ground in the league for 25 years, Villa were facing an uphill task early in the game.
Nigel Reo-Coker, drafted in at right-back instead of his usual midfield role, was struggling to settle and United made it 2-0 after 33 minutes, with Ronaldo this time setting up the goal.
He latched onto a clever pass from Scholes and delivered a cross to the back post. Reo-Coker had gone missing and Tevez was left with the simple task of heading the ball home.
United were knocking the ball around with ease, with Scholes at the heart of everything good about their play.
United should have extended their lead in the 48th minute when Rooney was sent clear by Tevez.
It looked as though he must score, but the England striker sent his effort wide from close range.
Villa substitute Shaun Maloney followed suit a minute later when he rattled his effort wide with only Tomasz Kuszczak to beat.
United hit back and Ronaldo came close in the 52nd minute when his shot hit Wilfred Bouma and came back off the bar.
However, a minute later Rooney made it 3-0 when he rounded Carson after Ronaldo's flick-on split the Villa defence.
It was Rooney's first goal in six games in all competitions for United and he savoured the moment after taking his tally to 16.
However, Maloney nearly reduced the arrears in the 55th minute, only for Kuszczak to make a superb block.
With Roma in mind next Tuesday in the Champions League, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson made three substitutions in the 62nd minute.
Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and John O'Shea replaced Patrice Evra, Ferdinand and Michael Carrick.
United remained in the driving seat and Tevez should have scored in the 66th minute, only to head wide in front of goal following a cross from Hargreaves before Rooney hit the post.
Rooney made it 4-0 in the 70th minute with his second of the game after again being released by Ronaldo and Villa boss Martin O'Neill cut a miserable figure in the lashing rain.
Rooney thought he had scored his hat-trick in the 78th minute, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
Given his unselfish running, it would have been well deserved in an impressive show by United.
They played out the last four minutes with 10 men as Giggs came off with what appeared to be a knock.
*information taken from www.soccernet.com
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