Ryan Giggs turned in a captain's performance as Manchester United beat Middlesbrough 2-0 to cruise into a six-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League table.
The Welshman fired the visitors into a 25th-minute lead at Middlesbrough, and Park Ji-sung completed the job six minutes after the break.
Boro, who now have just three games in which to stave off relegation, rarely threatened to deny United all three points in front of their biggest crowd of the season.
Perhaps more importantly, Manchester United won without having to call upon the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Edwin van der Sar, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Anderson ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League semi-final decider at Arsenal.
The Boro faithful among a crowd of 33,767 trailed away from the Riverside knowing their hopes of watching Premier League football next season are receding by the week.
Next Monday evening's derby trip to fellow strugglers Newcastle is looking increasingly pivotal for both clubs with at least one of them seemingly certain to slip out of the top flight.
To their credit, Boro fought and scrapped for every ball, but there was always a feeling that United had several more gears to go through.
Wayne Rooney, starting wide on the left, three times went for goal from distance without hitting the target but Giggs was not so forgiving when he was presented with his chance.
Federico Macheda, making his first league start for the club, stepped over Nemanja Vidic's ball across the edge of the penalty area and the Welshman left keeper Brad Jones rooted to the spot as he drilled to ball into the bottom corner.
Park then swooped on Rooney's glorious reverse pass to dispatch a venomous shot past the motionless Jones.
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