By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Old Trafford
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 11th Premier League goal of the season
Manchester United turned up the pressure on the Premier League's chasing pack and re-wrote the record books with victory over Everton at Old Trafford.
Cristiano Ronaldo's 44th-minute penalty - awarded after Mikel Arteta fouled Michael Carrick - put them five points ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea before they meet at Anfield on Sunday.
And in recording a 12th successive top-flight clean sheet, goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar eclipsed the previous league record of 1,104 minutes without conceding a goal, set by Reading's Steve Death in 1979.
United deserved their victory and could have won by more, but they were made to work for the win by an Everton side displaying all their trademark defensive resilience.
Former United keeper Tim Howard saved well from Ji-Sung Park and Carlos Tevez, while Ronaldo also hit the post from 20 yards in the first half.
Phelan points to all-round effort
Everton - admittedly stripped of almost all of their recognised attacking strength - created few openings and Van der Sar rarely looked in danger of missing out on his place in history.
Boss Sir Alex Ferguson can now relax after another efficient rather than spectacular display, and watch his two closest rivals go into combat on Sunday knowing victory is essential if they are to keep United firmly in their sights.
Carrick orchestrated United's performance in midfield and Tevez was busy in attack, but in the end they had to be grateful for a narrow victory.
United were presented with the opportunity to move away from the pursuing pack in the title race - but they faced an Everton side lifted by influential pair Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini passing fitness tests.
The first 45 minutes took the predictable shape of United working all their attacking options, but running into Everton's blue wall of defiance.
Record is a bonus - Van der Sar
Former United goalkeeper Howard was in early action, making a last-ditch save to turn away Park's cross and then blocking Tevez's effort from only eight yards with his legs.
Ronaldo came close to piercing the Everton rearguard after 25 minutes when his low shot took a deflection, only to strike a post and roll agonisingly across the goal-line to safety.
Everton's best form of response was the left-sided partnership of Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines. They worked a succession of promising openings, but the quality of delivery was poor and Van der Sar was rarely troubled.
The breakthrough came only a minute before half-time, and in the most frustrating manner possible for Everton as Arteta conceded a needless penalty.
Everton's Spanish midfield man flicked out a leg at Carrick as he raced into the area, and even though referee Mark Halsey let play progress, he then awarded a penalty when United gained no immediate advantage.
Ronaldo scored comfortably from the spot - and in the process put an entirely different complexion on the second half.
United were denied what looked an even more clear-cut penalty than the one they were awarded when Carrick was once again brought down, this time by Joleon Lescott, two minutes after the break but Halsey waved away their justified appeals.
Tevez had been an industrious figure for United, and he twice threatened to grab the crucial second goal, firing narrowly over then forcing a low save out of Howard from 20 yards.
Van der Sar had been largely unemployed, but he was in the action on the hour when he held on to Arteta's low free-kick from fully 30 yards.
Penalty was 'soft' - Moyes
Everton needed to find a cutting edge from somewhere, and with 23 minutes left Moyes decided it should come in the shape of substitute Victor Anichebe, who replaced Fellaini.
But it was still United posing all the serious questions and Howard needed to be alert to turn Tevez's deflected free-kick over the top.
Everton tried to press as time ran out, but they were lightweight in attack and United ended in the ascendancy, with Howard again saving well from Howard.
It was not United at their free-flowing best, but they will be satisfield to succeed against tough opponents who have taken points off Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in recent times.
Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan:
"It's still January, so there lot more games to play.
"It's about having a good defence and a good team, about Edwin (van der Sar) with his experience and composure, it's an all-round achievement - you can compliment forwards for scoring or defenders for defending.
"We try to perform to the best of abilities in every game, we try to entertain and score lots of goals - it just so happens we're not conceding."
Everton manager David Moyes:
"They stuck at it. In the first half we needed our goalkeeper (Tim Howard) to be inspirational to keep us in it.
"We were playing against a good team and you need a bit of luck and it might have gone against us in the penalty.
"I didn't think any of the penalty appeals merited any decisions but I thought the referee had a good game and have no qualms with him."
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville (Brown 56), Ferdinand, Vidic, O'Shea, Ronaldo, Carrick, Fletcher (Giggs 75), Park, Berbatov, Tevez.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Welbeck, Fabio Da Silva, Gibson, Eckersley.
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