Manchester United gave manager Sir Alex Ferguson an early birthday present with victory over Reading at Old Trafford.
Solskjaer set Man Utd on their way
Ferguson, who is 65 on New Year's Eve, saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put United ahead from a Cristiano Ronaldo cross.
Ibrahima Sonko soon headed Reading level from Nicky Shorey's free-kick after Edwin van der Sar's flap.
Ronaldo restored United's lead after Solskjaer hit the post and he volleyed in his second before Leroy Lita pulled one back for Reading.
Ferguson was presented with a silver trophy before kick-off to mark his 65th birthday.
606 DEBATE: Your reaction to United's victory
He could add that to his eight titles, five FA Cups, two League Cups, a European Cup, a Cup Winners' Cup, an Inter-Continental Cup, a Super Cup and five Charity Shields.
Not surprisingly, Ferguson restored the in-form Ronaldo to his starting line-up, and he again looked United's most dangerous attacking player as he took his tally to 12 league goals.
He went close early on when he was released by Wes Brown but his shot from an acute angle was blocked by Royals keeper Marcus Hahnemann.
Ferguson enjoyed a birthday hug from Fred the Red
Hahnemann had to be alert after fumbling a header from Ronaldo and managed to keep out Solskjaer's shot on the turn from close range.
United's frustration subsided when Solskjaer lost Sonko and headed in his eighth goal of the season from Ronaldo's perfect cross on 33 minutes.
Reading were behind for only five minutes when Sonko headed home after Van der Sar had come out to punch Shorey's free-kick but failed to get a touch.
Ronaldo headed a Carrick corner against the bar as United looked for a swift response to Reading's equaliser.
It almost came eight minutes after the break when Wayne Rooney made space for himself on the left side of the box before flighting a shot narrowly over the crossbar.
Substitute Ryan Giggs poked the ball into the side netting from another Ronaldo cross as United inched closer to a second goal.
The inevitable happened on 59 minutes when Rooney sent Solskjaer into the left side of the box and when his shot squirmed off the far post, Ronaldo was on hand to stab in the rebound.
The Royals lost the influential Graeme Murty with a groin injury and introduced Sam Sodje who amazingly only lasted nine minutes before being sent off for two bookings inside four minutes.
The second looked harsh when he was penalised for pulling Rooney back when the linesman appeared to be flagging for an offside.
United extended their lead to 3-1 when Giggs picked out Ronaldo who appeared to be offside when he volleyed the ball past Hahnemann for his sixth goal of the festive period.
Giggs and Carrick went close to adding to United's tally before Lita pulled one back for Reading with slide-rule precision from the left to cause a few anxious moments in injury time.
For Ferguson, this result was the perfect birthday present, especially as title rivals Chelsea were held to a draw by Fulham, extending United's lead to six points.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson:
""Cristiano is a fantastic lad and he is getting better all the time."
"He practises a lot and works really hard at his game and now he is getting the rewards."
"It has been a good day. We didn't expect to be six points clear tonight but I think the best thing for us to do is look at the next game because it is a hard one."
Reading manager Steve Coppell:
"(Sodje's sending off) seemed pretty harsh to me. I saw the flag go up for offside and then the referee started gesturing that Sam had pulled Wayne Rooney. Maybe there was an element of naivety about it but it certainly made things difficult for us."
"Ronaldo is probably the player every manager in the league would like to have in his team. It is not just the goals he is scoring but the way he's doing it. He is playing with more responsibility and is winning friends everywhere."
"In my heart I would like United to win (The Premiership) but I have said all along the key factors will be European football and injuries."
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze,
Ronaldo (Fletcher 78), O'Shea, Carrick, Park (Giggs 46),
Rooney (Richardson 79), Solskjaer.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Saha.
Goals: Solskjaer 33, Ronaldo 59, 77.
Reading: Hahnemann, Murty (Sodje 59), Sonko, Ingimarsson,
Shorey, Little (Ki-Hyeon 66), Sidwell, Gunnarsson, Harper,
Doyle (Hunt 73), Lita.
Subs Not Used: Federici, Oster.
Sent Off: Sodje (69).
Booked: Sodje, Gunnarsson.
Goals: Sonko 38, Lita 90.
Ref: M Dean (Wirral).