Premier League leaders Manchester United stretched their lead to five points after disposing of Fulham.
Cottagers goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was at fault for the opener as he saved Paul Scholes's superb 25-yard volley but let the ball spin into the net.
An imperious passing move from the home side then allowed Dimitar Berbatov to slot in a second.
Wayne Rooney came off the bench to sidefoot home at the far post and round off a one-sided victory.
The result provided United with the ideal launch pad for a spell of eight games in 25 days, including a Champions League tie against Inter Milan, the Carling Cup final against Tottenham and ending with the Premier League visit of Liverpool.
United all but confirmed the three points within the first half hour, enabling their players to preserve themselves for the tougher tests ahead, with Fulham barely providing a challenge to the Old Trafford side.
The visitors were not helped by keeper Schwarzer's poor performance, not least his early mistake that kick-started the home side's cruise to victory.
Carrick floated a precise corner to Scholes and, although the midfielder produced a sweetly struck volley, Schwarzer got down to save the effort only to see it spin into his goal.
United had won their last eight Premier League games without conceding a goal and, despite Bobby Zamora glancing a header wide for Fulham, there was already an air of resignation about the visitors.
Scholes's volley gave United the lead against Fulham
Schwarzer was proving more of a hindrance than a help to his side and, after fumbling a Cristiano Ronaldo cross, was fortunate Aaron Hughes cleared off the line from Berbatov.
Berbatov did not have to wait long before getting on the scoresheet and eventually slotted in by ending a passing move of about 23 passes.
The move ended with the sublime Scholes lofting a ball to John O'Shea, whose volley across goal was missed by Schwarzer leaving Berbatov to tap in.
United's two goalscorers each went close to extending Sir Alex Ferguson's side's lead as the match turned into a damage limitation exercise for a Cottagers team who are one of only two top-flight clubs without an away win this season.
It was the perfect scenario to bring back Rooney after his injury lay-off and the striker marked his comeback by tapping in Ji-Sung Park's cross at the far post.
Hodgson hails United's performance
United's play resembled more of a training exercise but they had the motivation of keeping a 14th-consecutive league clean sheet.
The British record twice came close to being ended when Zamora poked an angled shot narrowly wide and Nemanja Vidic escaped being penalised for handball in the area.
But United comfortably closed out the win and made full use of their game in hand over their title rivals, with Liverpool five points adrift of them, Aston Villa eight and Chelsea 10 points.
Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney:
"I'm delighted to get some minutes on the pitch and hopefully work my way back into the team.
"We played some brilliant football, especially in the first-half when I thought we were outstanding and we fully deserved the three points.
"We know the position we are in and it is nice to be top rather than chasing."
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson:
"Over the 90 minutes they were the better team and fully deserved to win. We can't even complain about the margin of victory.
"What impressed me was that there is not a player who is not comfortable on the ball and not composed.
"For us it was a learning experience. All I can do is congratulate Manchester United on an outstanding performance."
Man Utd: Van der Sar, O'Shea (Evans 62), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Carrick (Gibson 69), Scholes, Park, Berbatov (Rooney 61), Tevez.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Nani, Rafael Da Silva, Fletcher.
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