Robin Van Persie ended his 10-match goal drought to help Manchester United take a giant stride towards a record 20th Premier League title, with a victory over a Stoke City side that continues to slip deeper into the relegation mire.
Michael Carrick had earlier handed United the lead after four minutes at the Britannia Stadium, toe-poking home his first goal of the season from an early Wayne Rooney corner.
With Stoke struggling to create chances at the other end, United secured the win that takes them to within seven points of the title as Van Persie, having been fouled by Andy Wilkinson, stepped up to tuck past Asmir Begovic from the penalty spot and pile the misery on The Potters, who have now won only once in 2013.
With five defeats in their last six and just three points separating themselves from the bottom three, Stoke faced a tough task to breathe life into their season against a United side who despite defeat in the Manchester derby were just 10 points from the title.
They took a big step towards reclaiming their title after just four minutes as Carrick reacted first to Phil Jones's touch in the penalty area to bundle past Begovic.
The Bosnian then saved well from Wayne Rooney's stinging drive, either side of efforts from the goal-shy Van Persie.
The Potters were unable to penetrate the United back four with the threat provided by Kenwyne Jones failing to trouble the champions-elect.
The second half again saw Stoke restricted in their attacking ambitions, with long-range efforts from Glenn Whelan and Charlie Adam drawing comfortable saves from David de Gea.
United found breaking through the Stoke rearguard less challenging, and midway through the second half they doubled their advantage from the penalty spot as Van Persie, who was fouled by Wilkinson, found the net to end a run of one goal in his last 13 games.
The relief in the Dutchman's celebration, which included an embrace with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, was clear to see.
Michael Owen and Peter Crouch were introduced late on to try as Stoke battled in vain to stage a late comeback, but the defeat will leave Tony Pulis scratching his head as how to reverse his side's fortunes ahead of meetings with relegation rivals Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Sunderland.