LONDON: Manchester United moved within seven points of winning their 20th Premier League title after they added to Stoke City’s problems by winning comfortably by 2-0 in the Potteries.

United, who are looking to reclaim the title from their rivals Manchester City, got off to the perfect start at the Britannia Stadium. Michael Carrick struck in the fourth minute from a corner that Stoke failed to clear.

Robert Huth came close to levelling for the home side but his headed wide from a free-kick. The match was settled in the 66th minute by Robin Van Persie who, after a dazzling run into the box, was brought down by Andy Wilkinson. The Dutchman scored from the penalty spot to end his run of 10 games without scoring.

United never looked in trouble of surrendering their lead and now have 80 points, 15 clear of their rivals City in second. As for Stoke, they edge dangerously close to getting caught up in the relegation battle as they have 34 points with just 5 games of the season left.

Stoke had gone into the match after winning only one of their previous 13 league games and having slipped from midtable security at the turn of the year to a spot just three points above the relegation zone.

Transfer slip-ups

In the last four season the Potters – so named after the region which was home to Britain’s pottery industry, Wedgwood etc – have finished a consistent 12th, 11th, 13th and 14th.

Improvement appeared possible last summer when Pulis brought in the likes of Charlie Adam, Steven Nzonzi, Michael Kightly and Michael Owen but the outcome has been quite the opposite. England veteran Owen never convinced Pulis that he could make a difference in attack and, in disappointment, will retire at the end of the season.

In defence and midfield the steady disintegration of their intimidatingly effective football had frustrated fans who, until recently, had never doubted the pragmatic strategy of manager Tony Pulis.

Huth and Co needed to regain the old aggression and energy which had provided the platform for their five-year survival in the middle of the Premier League. Their cause was not helped by a three-game ban imposed on Huth in March on video evidence after he elbowed Fulham’s Philippe Senderos in the face.

** Paolo Di Canio won his first game as Sunderland manager as they beat derby rivals Newcastle 3:0 at St James’ Park. Goals from Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan gave the visitors their first victory at Newcastle in 13 years in only Di Canio’s second game in charge.

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