A first-minute goal from Wayne Rooney sent Manchester United on their way to a 2-0 victory away at Queens Park Rangers on Sunday and increased the pressure on Manchester City.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side arrived at Loftus Road knowing a win would lift them a point above City ahead of their local rivals' clash with Arsenal later Sunday.
And the prospect of climbing to the head of the table for the first time since October proved to be a powerful incentive, with Rooney providing the visitors with the perfect start inside the opening 60 seconds.
Michael Carrick added a second in the 56th minute - his first goal in 70 United games - to provide a timely reminder of his qualities amid speculation Ferguson will strengthen his midfield options in January's transfer window.
Any concerns about the squad's strength were put on hold, however, by a convincing win against a Rangers side who remain three points above the relegation zone.
"It was important we got the second goal, their keeper (Radek Cerny) made some fantastic saves and we knew we needed the second to give us a cushion," Carrick told Sky Sports. "It's a big three points."
Reflecting on his goal, Carrick said: "It's been a long time coming but it was an important goal and a big win for us."
Rooney added: "Their keeper made a lot of good saves but we're thankful for a 2-0 win, it's what we came here to do.
"It was a great ball by Antonio (Valencia) and as a forward you try to put yourself in position and thankfully I got a good connection."
Rooney started the move for the opening goal by heading a loose ball out to Valencia who then crossed for the England striker to head home in front of Rangers defender Luke Young.
Moments later United again cut through the home defence when Nani released Danny Welbeck clear on goal and it took a good save from keeper Radek Cerny to deny the young forward.
And when Nani called Cerny into action again in the ninth minute, it seemed United would wrap up the game long before the half-time interval.
United appeared vulnerable, though, when Rangers did get forward and Jay Bothroyd could easily have cancelled out Rooney's opening goal after James Mackie easily outpaced Patrice Evra to set up the striker's shooting chance.
United centre-back Jonny Evans headed against a post while Phil Jones was denied by another fine save from Cerny after being sent clear by Rooney.
And at the other end, United keeper David de Gea saved from Heidar Helguson with his feet.
Rangers worked hard to contain their opponents but signs of tiredness began to creep in during the second half and Carrick took full advantage of a misplaced pass by Joey Barton to add a second goal.
Carrick collected the ball on the halfway line and ran unchallenged to the edge of Cerny's box where he finished beyond the keeper with a well-placed right-footed shot.
Rangers could have fallen further behind when Rooney narrowly failed to connect with Valencia's driven cross.
And substitute Javier Hernandez almost made an immediate impact when he created another chance for Evans within seconds of his introduction.
Rangers could, however, have clawed they way back into the game when substitutes Adel Taarabt and DJ Campbell combined in the 75th minute.
Taarabt curled in a low cross towards Campbell, who volleyed over from just five yards despite finding himself unmarked.
That was the last significant scare for United, who eased their way through the remainder of the game.