LONDON – Manchester United opened up an eight point lead at the top of the Premier League – at least until second-placed Manchester City playing at Arsenal later (kicked off 1500GMT) – when they beat 10-man Queens Park Rangers 2-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.
United won with a highly debatable first half penalty which led to the sending-off, and a trademark rocket shot from Paul Scholes in the second half, to move on to 79 points with six matches remaining.
City, who led the title race for five months before falling behind United a month ago, will attempt to cut their lead back to five points at the Emirates against an Arsenal side looking to move back into third place.
United took the lead after 15 minutes when Wayne Rooney scored his 30th goal of the season after referee Lee Mason awarded them a controversial penalty.
Ashley Young, who was in an offside position anyway, appeared to dive after the slightest of touches from QPR skipper Shaun Derry who was promptly shown the red card by the referee, QPR’s seventh dismissal of the season.
Rooney shot low and hard to goalkeeper Paddy Kenny’s right and although the goalkeeper almost got a hand to the ball, the goal virtually settled the game as a contest.
QPR’s chief executive Phil Beard accused Young of diving, likening him on Twitter to Britain’s Olympic diver Tom Daley.
“Difficult to take after watching various replays, but Ashley Young could partner Tom Daley at the Olympics,” he wrote.
United doubled their lead after 68 minutes when Scholes scored his third league goal since coming out of retirement in January.
QPR failed to clear a corner properly and the ball fell to Scholes who smashed it low and hard past Kenny from the edge of the penalty area to seal United’s 11th win out of their last 12 league matches.
United defender Rio Ferdinand, playing against his brother Anton in QPR’s lineup said afterwards that they would have preferred to have won with a bigger margin, especially following the early dismissal.
“Considering they had a man sent off, we’d have liked to have won by more but we’ll take the win and a clean sheet,” he said, adding that Scholes’s influence on the team was important.
“We have seen the influence he has had, he is an example to everyone at the club,” Ferdinand said. “But its a team effort and everyone’s contribution counts.
“We have been in this position before and that counts for a lot. We have to use all the experience to do it again.”
United could have won by a bigger margin too with Kenny pushing a point-blank shot from Rafael onto the bar when it looked odds-on the defender would score, while United midfielder Michael Carrick hit the inside of a post later.
Although QPR battled well, they never looked like saving the game and they remain deep in trouble.
Bolton Wanderers have 29 points, Blackburn Rovers, QPR and Wigan Athletic all have 28 and Wolverhampton Wanderers are bottom on 22.