Manchester - An outstanding goal from Darren Fletcher set Manchester United on their way to a 3-0 victory over Everton on Saturday that kept them within five points of league leaders Chelsea.
With Carlo Ancelotti's side having beaten Wolves earlier, United could ill afford any slips although for long periods it looked as though they would struggle to break Everton down.
But Fletcher's 35th-minute half-volley broke the deadlock before Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick struck when the game opened up after the break and United ultimately ran out comfortable winners.
United coach Sir Alex Ferguson stated in the build-up to this game that he was growing increasingly concerned by the number of chances his side have failed to take this season.
The Scot's forward options for the visit of Everton were reduced when Dimitar Berbatov was ruled out with a suspected knee problem following his goalscoring appearance for Bulgaria in their mid-week friendly win in Malta.
That meant the United boss paired Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen up front for only the second time this season in the hope that the duo would finally rekindle the understanding they once showed for England.
However, there were precious few signs of the two strikers gelling during a disjointed opening period when the home side struggled to break down the packed Everton defence despite dominating possession.
And while Everton ceded territorial advantage, they comfortably cut out any meaningful supply to Owen and Rooney and the early signs were that this would be a frustrating 90 minutes for Ferguson and his players.
Rooney sliced a half-chance wide in the 14th minute after Fletcher's excellent pass had released Patrice Evra down the left-hand flank moments before Ryan Giggs sent a low drive tamely wide and Valencia skied over.
Everton offered little as an attacking force with Louis Saha's snapshot, easily dealt with by Edwin van Der Sar, the sum total of their first-half efforts.
Neither Valencia nor Evra were making much headway down the flanks while Rooney was proving uncharacteristically ineffective through the middle.
United needed a spark of inspiration from somewhere and it came in the 35th minute when Fletcher capped his excellent work in midfield with a superbly controlled finish that gave visiting keeper Tim Howard no chance.
The opening arose after Evra had worked his way forward on United's left flank before directing a deep cross towards the far post where Valencia laid off a cushioned header into the path of Fletcher, who struck the bouncing ball into the top-left corner from the edge of the area.
Everton opened up after the break but their hopes of a comeback disappeared in the 67th minute when Carrick collected a pass from Giggs and drilled a low shot beyond Howard.
The Merseysiders were then forced to chase the game, and Valencia sealed a home victory when he broke into the box and saw his shot deflect off Leighton Baines and into the goal with 14 minutes remaining.