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Premier League

Rampant Rooney helps rejuvenated Reds to run riot

Queens Park Rangers 0 Manchester United 2

Manchester United may be out of the Champions League, beset by injuries and challenged by noisy neighbours, but they have few problems despatching the Premier League's lesser lights. Since the 6-1 humbling by Manchester City, the champions have taken 19 points from 21 in the League and this easy win enabled them to top the division for the first time in two months.

Their appearance at the summit may have been brief but United are not going to surrender their title without a struggle. "They showed what depth they have in their squad," said QPR manager Neil Warnock, "you can toss a coin as to who is the best team."

Sir Alex Ferguson's options improved with the return of Javier Hernandez, only two weeks after suffering an ankle injury that was forecast to keep him out for more than a month. The Mexican was given a half-hour run-out and the Scot will be pleased his best finisher is back given the chances his team missed.

Wayne Rooney, after 51 seconds, put United ahead and the rather less prolific Michael Carrick secured the points after 56 minutes, but there should have been many more goals. Johnny Evans and Phil Jones hit the woodwork, Rooney and Evans had efforts cleared off the line, and Radek Cerny made fine saves from Danny Welbeck, Jones and Nani. Further chances were simply wasted by Rooney, Welbeck, Nani and Luis Valencia.

"It was a good performance, but I thought we were wasteful," said Ferguson. "We should have had it won by the 30-minute mark. The goalkeeper made two fantastic saves and we missed some very good chances.

"Going out of the Champions League was a disappointment but we are not immune to losing a game. Obviously we don't want to lose big ones but the nature of our club is that we get on with it – we don't sit and moan. We had to do something about it and I think the players have done that. Hopefully by the New Year we can be round about the top of the league."

Ferguson will be 70 on New Year's Eve, but remains as enthusiastic as ever and he was off his feet in the opening minute as United took advantage of some sloppy defending by Rangers, Rooney heading in at the back post from Valencia's cross.

It was a body blow for QPR, who beat Chelsea here and worried Manchester City, but needed a good start to turn Loftus Road into its intimidating best for this early kick-off if they were to challenge United. Initially they responded boldly with Heidar Helguson heading wide and Jay Bothroyd shooting over from a good position, but while some of their approach play was neat, too often the final ball was poor and the chances dried up.

Not so at the other end where Rooney was operating between the lines to devastating effect, United's midfield runners caused problems, and their wingers ran loose. Somehow Cerny and his centre-halves held them at bay and Rangers might even have reached the break level with Bothroyd and Helguson threatening.

They began the second period, however, in disarray, with Danny Gabbidon not even on the pitch, after having stitches inserted at the break. United promptly drove straight through the centre and Rooney could have scored again. It only delayed the inevitable, as United put the match to bed 10 minutes later. Joey Barton had played a lot of good passes, but he sent a square ball straight to Carrick who strode unchallenged from the halfway line before driving past Cerny. It was his first league goal for two years.

Further chances came and went, mainly for United, although Warnock's 65th-minute double substitution almost paid dividends as one replacement, Adel Taarabt, set up DJ Campbell, who managed to shoot over from five yards. It showed what Taarabt, a peripheral figure this year due to his inability to marry effort to his talent, is capable off. Perhaps he watched Rooney doing so and the penny dropped, but one doubts it.

Substitutes: Queens Park Rangers Taarabt 6 (Wright-Phillips, 65), Campbell 4 (Helguson, 65), Hill 6 (Bothroyd, 75). Manchester United Hernandez 6 (Welbeck, 63), Giggs (Rooney, 78), Young (Nani, 88). Booked: QPR Gabbidon. Man United Jones, Ferdinand.

Man of the match Rooney. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: QPR 45% Man United 55%.

Attempts on target: QPR 3 Man United 12.

Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Attendance 18,033.