Manchester United Beats Stoke 2-0 to Close On 20th English Title

Manchester United won 2-0 at Stoke City to move to within seven points of a record-extending 20th English league soccer championship. Sunderland defeated Newcastle 3-0 in the northeast derby.

Michael Carrick opened the scoring for United in the fourth minute yesterday before Robin van Persie converted a second-half penalty kick to end his goal drought. The victory restored United’s 15-point lead over defending champion Manchester City atop the standings with six matches left.

“I have told the players that we are going to take the next six games as the start of the season and try to win them all,” United manager Alex Ferguson told reporters. “We are a game closer. The important thing is not to take our eye off the ball. Coming here is always a difficult game but the players persevered and it was an important victory.”

United leads the Premier League with 80 points from 32 of 38 games, followed by City, with 65 from 31 matches. Then come Arsenal (59), Chelsea and Tottenham (both 58) and Everton (55). City beat Chelsea 2-1 yesterday to reach the F.A. Cup final against Wigan.

Carrick took advantage of indecisive defending from a corner kick to give United a lead it never relinquished.

Van Persie made the game safe from the penalty spot in the 66th minute after he was fouled by Andy Wilkinson. His 20th league goal of the season was his first for United since early February, a span of 751 minutes, according to Opta Sports.

“I had to score that one and thankfully it went in,” Van Persie, who celebrated by giving Ferguson a bear-hug, said in a televised interview. “After that the relief of a couple of weeks came out. I wanted to celebrate with everyone.”

Relegation ‘Dogfight’

The defeat drops Stoke to 16th place behind Sunderland on goal difference, only three points above the three-team relegation zone.

“It’s a dogfight with eight or nine teams down there battling,” said Stoke manager Tony Pulis. “But this is when you need characters and you need people to step up to the mark. We need to roll our sleeves up.”

Sunderland’s win at Newcastle clinched a first victory for new manager Paolo Di Canio.

Stephane Sessegnon gave the visiting team the lead in the 27th minute at St. James’ Park. Adam Johnson made it 2-0 in the 74th minute with a left-foot curling shot from outside the penalty area.

David Vaughan slammed in a shot from the left of the area for the third goal in the 82nd minute. It was Di Canio’s second game in charge.

At the bottom of the standings, Reading and Queens Park Rangers have 24 points, with Wigan on 31, and Aston Villa, Stoke and Sunderland all on 34. Norwich has 35 and Newcastle 36.

Two days ago, Arsenal beat Norwich 3-1, Aston Villa drew 1-1 with Fulham, and West Ham tied 1-1 at Southampton. Reading drew 0-0 with Liverpool and Everton defeated QPR 2-0.

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