Manchester United's Mexican forward Javier Hernandez (L) pokes in the winning goal past Newcastle United's Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul during their Premier League thriller at Old Trafford on Wednesday. The 4-3 win took Manchester United 7 points clear at the top as local rivals Manchester City lost 1-0 at Sunderland.Photo: AFP
A 90th-minute goal by Javier Hernandez gave Manchester United a thrilling 4-3 victory at home to Newcastle United on Wednesday that put Alex Ferguson's men seven points clear in the Premier League.
The leaders had to come from behind three times to win, and second-place Manchester City's 1-0 loss at Sunderland meant that the traditional Boxing Day fixtures left United with plenty of reasons to feel thankful.
United were without Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young due to injury and illness, and they fell behind in the fourth minute when James Perch tapped in after David de Gea saved from Demba Ba.
Jonny Evans equalised in the 25th minute, sliding in after Tim Krul denied Javier Hernandez, but the Northern Irishman undid his good work four minutes later when he inadvertently turned in Danny Simpson's cross for an own goal.
The goal was given despite Papiss Cisse lingering in an offside position behind Evans, and United manager Ferguson harangued referee Mike Dean and his officials as the teams returned for the second half.
Patrice Evra drew the hosts level just before the hour, driving in from the edge of the area to claim his fourth goal of the campaign, only for Cisse to restore Newcastle's advantage by slamming home from 12 yards.
Robin van Van Persie equalised in the 71st minute and after Sammy Ameobi had hit the post for Newcastle, Hernandez ghosted into the visitors' area to sweep home Michael Carrick's pass and secure a potentially crucial victory.
City's loss at Sunderland was only their second defeat of the season and the result was rendered doubly damaging by events at Old Trafford.
The champions threatened first when returning captain Vincent Kompany hit the bar in the eighth minute, but the home side claimed the game's only goal eight minutes into the second half.
Adam Johnson was the scorer, embarrassing his former City teammate Joe Hart with a low shot from wide on the right that squeezed inside the near post.
Chelsea were also beneficiaries of City's slip-up, prevailing 1-0 at Norwich City through a 20-yard Juan Mata strike to close to within four points of Roberto Mancini's men with a game in hand.
With Arsenal not playing and Tottenham Hotspur not in action until they visit Aston Villa later, Everton took advantage by beating Wigan Athletic 2-1 to creep into the top four.
Leon Osman broke the deadlock with a deflected effort in the 52nd minute before Phil Neville teed up Phil Jagielka for Everton's second. Arouna Kone claimed a consolation for Wigan.
Everton 2 (Osman 52, Jagielka 77) Wigan 1 (Kone 82)
Fulham 1 (Berbatov 8) Southampton 1
Man Utd 4 (Evans 25, Evra 58, Van Persie 71, Hernandez 90) Newcastle 3 (Perch 4,
Evans 28-og, Cisse 68)
Norwich 0 Chelsea 1 (Mata 38)
Reading 0 Swansea 0
Sunderland 1 (Johnson 53) Man City 0