In what has been a season full of stirring performances, Tuesday's was a lacklustre one after Carrick had given Manchester United the perfect start by chipping in Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfectly-angled through ball after only four minutes.

But Sheffield United, who are battling to avoid dropping out of the top tier, dug in and frustrated their hosts until Rooney made sure of the points five minutes into the second half, lashing the ball home after a fine move involving Ryan Giggs.

After that was comfortable going for the league leaders with the only scare coming when Michael Tonge crashed a shot against the bar in the closing stages.

Photo finish

With only five games remaining United are now six points clear of Chelsea, who can reduce it back to three if they beat West Ham and ensure the two teams continue towards a thrilling finale to both the domestic and European seasons.

The two are already certain to face each other in a climax to the league season at the end of May and in the FA Cup final. A third decisive meeting would come in the Champions League final if Chelsea beat Liverpool and United dispose of Milan.

While United are targeting the treble, Chelsea are still in shout for an unprecedented quadruple after already securing the League Cup.

Elsewhere in the premiership on Tuesday night, Arsenal took a giant step towards a Champions League spot by beating Manchester City 3-1 at the Emirates stadium.

The north London side took the lead in the twelfth minute through Tomas Rosicky before being pegged back when DaMarcus Beasley levelled against the run of play just before half-time.

But a 73rd minute Cesc Fabregas volley and a third goal from Julio Baptista secured the points and saw Arsenal climb to third.