Wayne Rooney rescued Manchester United after almost playing the Barclays Premier League champions into trouble at struggling Hull this afternoon.
Rooney gave United the lead in first-half stoppage time at the KC Stadium but then gifted Hull a route back with the mistake that led to Craig Fagan's penalty equaliser.
The England striker then stepped up a gear to force an own goal from Andy Dawson and then set up a third for strike partner Dimitar Berbatov.
The hard-fought victory lifted United back above Arsenal into second and within two points of leaders Chelsea.
It was also United's first encounter with Alan Wiley since manager Sir Alex Ferguson's outspoken attack on the referee in October, when he claimed the official was unfit.
On this occasion United could complain little about Wiley's decisions, and were perhaps lucky not to see Patrice Evra sent off in the second half.
After last week's injury-influenced debacle at Fulham, United welcomed back a trio of defenders in Rafael da Silva, Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic.
That gave United a much more familiar look as Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick returned to midfield roles while Ryan Giggs and Berbatov also came back the champions.
United started patiently but burst into life after five minutes as Antonio Valencia charged down the right.
The Ecuador international picked out Giggs with a well-flighted cross but the Welshman's volley dipped just over Boaz Myhill's bar.
Giggs was then inches away from scoring from a 16th-minute free-kick after Rooney went down under a Kamil Zayatte challenge.
Hull weathered that storm and appealed for a penalty after making a rare break but Brown's challenge as Richard Garcia raced onto a Fagan ball was deemed fair.
Seyi Olofinjana tried his luck from long range for Hull but Tomasz Kuszczak was not troubled.
Rooney went close again for United as Hull waited in vain for an offside flag, forcing Myhill to palm over with a stinging shot.
Hull were unlucky not to take the lead after piecing together a brilliant move in the 28th minute.
Garcia began the attack with a weaving run before finding Fagan out wide. Fagan's perfect cross was met on the volley by Olofinjana on the six-yard line but Kuszczak saved to his right.
Hull survived a real scare when Myhill sliced a clearance but Giggs and Rooney were unable to take advantage of an unexpected opening.
The Tigers spurned another good opportunity as Olofinjana found Stephen Hunt on the left but the Irishman shot tamely across goal.
Rafael then beat the offside trap at the end of an intricate move on the edge of the Hull box but Myhill saved brilliantly from the Brazilian.
Pressure finally paid off as Hull failed to clear a Fletcher cross and Rooney tapped in from close range during two minutes of stoppage time.
United were relieved but Rooney turned villain with a horrendous error just before the hour.
Rooney played Kuszczak into trouble with a weak backpass and Fagan nipped in to win the ball.
Fagan's touch took it too wide to shoot but he turned and lofted in a cross for Jozy Altidore, who was bundled over by the backtracking Rafael.
Wiley pointed to the spot and Fagan, taking over spot-kicking duties, stepped up to coolly slot an equaliser.
United almost reclaimed the lead moments later as Brown rose to meet a corner but Myhill clawed the ball away from under his bar as Rooney threatened.
Hull went close from their own corner as Garcia met a Hunt cross but his header flashed across goal.
Evra, booked in the first half, was fortunate to escape a second yellow card for holding back Fagan as Hull tried to launch another counter-attack.
Rooney then redeemed himself by forcing the own goal that put United back in front after 73 minutes.
Hull were caught as United broke from deep and Giggs put Rooney through. The angle was a tight one but Hull could not get back quickly enough and Rooney's cross was turned in by Dawson.
There was no way back for Hull and Berbatov finished the job eight minutes from time, although he owed much to Rooney.
The England man was allowed to stroll into the area from halfway as Hull reacted slowly to a long Vidic header and then picked out Berbatov at the far post with a measured ball. The Bulgarian had a simple task to slide home.
Hull showed spirit as Bernard Mendy and Fagan shot wide and their performance should offer encouragement for Tuesday's crunch clash at Bolton.