It is increasingly looking like a procession to the title for Manchester United. A week that brings three meetings with relegation-threatened opponents began with a victory achieved with dismissive ease.
Queens Park Rangers were defeated 2-0, United recording an eighth successive league win courtesy of goals from Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes.
There is little to encourage Manchester City, whether in United's fixture list, opponents' performances or even the officiating. QPR were effectively condemned to defeat within a quarter of an hour when Shaun Derry was wrongly dismissed. After the previous visitors to Old Trafford, Fulham, were incorrectly denied a penalty, a theme is developing.
Yet much as a difficult task became mission impossible for Rangers, the likelihood was that they would have lost anyway.
Omitting Joey Barton, on the brink of a suspension, and Bobby Zamora, weakened by a virus, their priorities were clear.
The team sheet was a statement of the wrong sort of intent. City's former manager, Mark Hughes, was rather less inclined to do them a favour than beat Swansea City on Wednesday.
That seems a winnable game; this, as a contest, was ended after the first 15 minutes, when United played with pace and purpose.
Rooney, who began brilliantly, delivered a perceptive pass that was rather overshadowed by what followed. Ashley Young tumbled to the turf as Derry tugged him, meaning the midfielder, as the last man, was shown the red card by Lee Mason, the referee.
Yet, as the winger was offside, it should have been a Rangers free kick rather than a United penalty. The subsequent spot kick was crisply dispatched by Rooney.
"Ashley was a yard offside so I can understand Mark being angry and disappointed," Sir Alex Ferguson said.
Hughes was both. "It is minimal contact," he said, announcing he will appeal against Derry's red card. "The boy has gone over too easily and the referee has bought it. We are desperately disappointed with the referee."
Ferguson argued their numerical advantage lured United into a comfort zone. But they were in complete control, Scholes and Michael Carrick completing more passes in the first half than the entire QPR team. And possession produced pressure and, eventually, a host of chances. Paddy Kenny made two superb saves in as many minutes, first diverting Rafael da Silva's shot on to the bar after the Brazilian was found superbly by Scholes, and then denying Danny Welbeck, picked out by Rooney.
"We kept missing at vital moments," Ferguson said. "The second goal from Paul Scholes calmed everyone down." It was the veteran's first against QPR in 18 years, a rasping shot drilled in from 20 yards.
After one central midfielder struck from distance, the other almost emulated him, Carrick leaving the post shaking with a thunderous strike.
But, to Hughes's relief, the scoring had come to an end. "We were conscious of the fact we couldn't afford to concede a shedload of goals," he said.
The relegation battle could come down to goal difference. It is ever more unlikely that the title race will be that close.
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