Manchester United capitalised on a slip-up by Manchester City to open up a massive 15-point lead at the Premier League summit despite a laboured display in a 1-0 win at home to Reading late on Saturday.
City’s defeat at 10-man Everton handed United a chance to further increase their lead and they grasped the opportunity through a solitary first-half goal from Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford.
Rio Ferdinand celebrated his recall to the England squad by creating the goal in the 21st minute, boldly striding forward before slipping the ball to Rooney, who beat Stuart Taylor with a deflected shot.
In response, Hal Robson-Kanu grazed the post with a crisp 20-yard strike for second-bottom Reading, who sacked manager Brian McDermott on Monday.
Taylor saved from Robin van Persie and Ryan Giggs in a quiet second half, but although United were well below-par, their 20th English league title now seems only a matter of time.
“We don’t do it (play badly and win) that often,” United manager Alex Ferguson told ESPN. “Most of the time we’ve played well this season. The performance today doesn’t reflect the 15 points ahead we are — it’s the previous six months, really,” he added.