Van Persie breaks drought as United close in on title
Dutchman scores first goal in 11 games, while Di Canio gets first win in Tyne-Wear derby
Manchester United took a step closer to the Premier League title with a 2-0 win at Stoke City yesterday that saw them re-establish a 15-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the table.
Michael Carrick gave United an early lead and Robin van Persie completed victory by claiming his first club goal in 11 games from the penalty spot midway through the second half.
Victory allowed United to return to winning ways after Monday's loss in the Manchester derby, although City, who tackled Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-finals overnight, have a game in hand.
Stoke, meanwhile, find themselves in real danger of slipping into the relegation zone, having won just once in 13 league games in 2013.
Tony Pulis' side currently sit three points above the relegation zone, but they have played two games more than third-bottom Wigan Athletic.
United, who played with Wayne Rooney in midfield, broke the deadlock in the fourth minute at a windswept Britannia Stadium.
Phil Jones met a right-wing corner from van Persie and with the ball bobbling around the area, Carrick stuck out his foot to toe it into the bottom-left corner.
Van Persie ended his two-month wait for a United goal in the 66th minute, steering a penalty past Asmir Begovic and celebrating by embracing manager Alex Ferguson. "He nearly killed me, he forgets I'm 71," joked Ferguson.
"It was a big win, let me put it that way," said Van Persie. "My goal came at an important point in the game, but the main thing today was to win, it was all about the win - I wouldn't have cared who had scored the goal.
"It was just important that we bounced back after last Monday. Every single player battled out there. And credit to all of us because we deserved this game."
Earlier, Sunderland won 3-0 at local rivals Newcastle United to fire their bid to avoid relegation and give Paolo Di Canio a memorable victory in his first northeast derby.
Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan scored three excellent goals, moving Sunderland three points clear of the bottom three and to within two points of Alan Pardew's Newcastle.
"I'm happy for my players because they were warriors today," Di Canio said.
"I was excited to see our fans celebrate because I know what it means to win here. Yes, it's a big win in terms of the area, but it's only one step and and not a big step in terms of the table."
Di Canio's reaction was typically effusive, the new Sunderland manager sprinting down the touchline and punching the air in delight.