Manchester United capitalised on a slip-up by Manchester City to open up a massive 15-point lead at the Premier League summit despite a laboured display in a 1-0 win at home to Reading on Saturday.
City's defeat at ten-man Everton handed United a chance to further increase their lead and they grasped the opportunity through a solitary first-half goal from Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford. Rio Ferdinand celebrated his recall to the England squad by creating the goal in the 21st minute, boldly striding forward before slipping the ball to Rooney, who beat Stuart Taylor with a deflected shot.
In response, Hal Robson-Kanu grazed the post with a crisp 20-yard strike for second-bottom Reading, who sacked manager Brian McDermott on Monday. Taylor saved from Robin van Persie and Ryan Giggs in a quiet second half, but although United were well below-par, their 20th English league title now seems only a matter of time.
Everton's 2-0 win over Manchester City earlier in the day temporarily pushed the Toffees into fifth place, but they slipped back to sixth after Arsenal won 2-0 at Swansea City to move to within two points of fourth-place Chelsea.
January signing Nacho Monreal and Gervinho struck late in the game at the Liberty Stadium as Arsene Wenger's side responded in positive fashion to their mid-week elimination from the UEFA Champions League.
Meanwhile, Liverpool lost ground in the race for European qualification after losing 3-1 at Southampton. Morgan Schneiderlin neatly converted a Jay Rodriguez knock-down in the sixth minute to put Southampton ahead at St Mary's, before Rickie Lambert doubled the hosts' lead with a deflected free-kick. Philippe Coutinho replied for Liverpool on the stroke of half-time, but Rodriguez made sure of victory in the 80th minute as Mauricio Pochettino's side pulled seven points clear of the relegation places.
Queens Park Rangers were left seven points adrift of safety at the foot of the table after losing 3-2 to relegation rivals Aston Villa in a thrilling encounter at Villa Park. After Jermaine Jenas gave QPR an early lead, Villa hit back through Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann, only for Andros Townsend's deflected strike to draw the visitors level in the 73rd minute.
However, there was a further twist in the tale, as Christian Benteke stroked home the winning goal from Weimann's cut-back with nine minutes remaining. Benteke's goal allowed Villa to put six points between themselves and the bottom three, although third-bottom Wigan have two games in hand.
In the day's other game, Stoke City failed to reverse their disappointing recent form in a goalless draw at home to West Bromwich Albion.