MANCHESTER United restored their six-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premiership but victory at Tottenham was tinged with controversy as Cristiano Ronaldo won, and scored, a disputed penalty.
Ronaldo scored the opener at White Hart Lane on the stroke of half time but it was hard to tell the extent of the contact as Steed Malbranque and Lee Young-Pyo tried to stop his run.
But the incident did not affect the Portugal winger who turned in another dazzling display on the flanks and set up Paul Scholes for United’s third after Nemanja Vidic had doubled the lead.
Ryan Giggs ran through to add to Spurs’ embarrassment late on and John O’Shea finished in goal as Edwin van der Sar broke his nose and United had used all their substitutes.
United had lost in the capital to Arsenal and West Ham this season but held their nerve after Chelsea’s victory on Saturday had closed the gap, and their glut of goals either side of the break underlined their potential to seal a first title since 2003.
As for Spurs, they remain as far from the Champions League places as they are from the relegation zone. Despite controversy for the opener and a penalty claim of their own, they were swept aside and did not look like recording their first win over United since 2001 when Willem Korsten scored twice.
The closest they had come in that period was two years ago when referee Mark Clattenburg famously failed to spot Pedro Mendes’ apparent “goal”.
He was in charge again and in the thick of the action – by awarding Ronaldo his penalty – but initially to calm a frantic opening.
Scholes had already mis-timed a challenge on Aaron Lennon and Didier Zokora had tripped Gary Neville, but it was Vidic who picked up the first booking when he went through the back of Jermain Defoe after nine minutes.
The first real chance of the game fell to Ronaldo but the Portugal winger blazed over after collecting the rebound when Michael Carrick’s header from a corner had been saved by Paul Robinson.
Predictably, Carrick was jeered by home supporters on his return to White Hart Lane following his departure from the club in the summer for £18.6million. Carrick had an early shot fly over and was typically effective protecting his back four, while Tom Huddlestone did the same for the hosts.
Huddlestone, billed as Carrick’s natural heir, set up Spurs’ first chance but Dimitar Berbatov, after taking a touch around Rio Ferdinand, saw his finish tipped around the post by Edwin van der Sar.
United already had a penalty appeal turned down in the 29th minute when Anthony Gardner appeared to trip Henrik Larsson in the area, but Clattenburg waved away the protests that lasted minutes after the incident.
But they were not denied a spot-kick on the stroke of half-time, with Ronaldo causing plenty of problems for the home defence.
The winger has not seemed affected by abuse since his role in Wayne Rooney’s dismissal at the World Cup, and he blocked out the jeers again to slam his penalty past Robinson.
Spurs had their own penalty shout when Pascal Chimbonda appeared to be held by Neville, marking a busy first half for Clattenburg.
Rooney had been living on the edge and earned a yellow card for a challenge on Lee after he had lost the ball, and Chimbonda was also booked before the break.
Robinson tipped over from Vidic and Carrick after the break but was beaten in the 48th minute when Vidic met Carrick’s corner with a thumping header.
The lead was extended in the 53rd minute when Ronaldo surged down the right and crossed for Scholes to bundle in. Spurs thought they should have had a penalty on the hour mark when Berbatov was challenged by Ferdinand, but Clattenburg waved play on.
Van der Sar had to tip over from Berbatov but United extended their lead with 14 minutes left when substitute Louis Saha played Giggs through to finish.
Berbatov could have pulled one back when he got behind the United defence but Van der Sar saved his effort. The Dutch goalkeeper could not finish the game after a clash with Robbie Keane, and John O’Shea played the remaining five minutes in goal.