|Wayne Rooney signals a return to form in front of a loyal home crowd at Old Trafford [AFP]
Wayne Rooney ensured Manchester United remain the team to beat in the English Premier League, blasting home two goals - his first goals in open play at Old Trafford this season - as league leaders Manchester United beat Aston Villa 3-1.
Victory, sealed by Nemanja Vidic's goal shortly after Darren Bent had reduced Villa's deficit to 2-1, ensured United remained five points clear at the summit of English football and saw Sir Alex Ferguson's men equal a club record of 29 unbeaten league games set in the 1998/99 season.
Elsewhere second-place Arsenal came from behind to beat Everton 2-1 at home thanks to goals by Andrey Arshavin and Laurent Koscielny and Chelsea produced an attacking masterclass in the absence of new record signing Fernando Torres to beat Sunderland 4-2 away.
It took Rooney just 49 seconds to give United the lead following home goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar's long clearance flying over the Villa defence.
Rooney outpaced Richard Dunne and took one touch before driving the ball into the top corner.
Nani was soon looking to add a second and cut in from the right before lifting a shot over the bar of Brad Friedel, who became Villa's oldest-ever player at the age of 39 years and 259 days.
Dimitar Berbatov should have done better from a deep Rooney cross but struggled to get a decent header on the ball under pressure from James Collins.
When Villa finally got some decent possession in the opposition half, Bent scuffed his shot from Ashley Young's cross.
Friedel came to Dunne's rescue when the Irish defender slipped and gave the ball away on the edge of the box.
United continued to press and Berbatov spurned another chance when Nani lifted a cross up to the far post and the Bulgarian could only guide his header on to the roof of the net.
Rooney doubled his tally just before half time thanks to a fine cross from Nani.
The Portuguese lifted a cross to the far post and Rooney stabbed in from close range after getting to the ball ahead of Collins.
After the restart, Aston Villa had a penalty appeal waved away after Bent went down under a challenge from Patrice Evra.
Just before the hour, Villa got in behind the United defence and Downing's cross was touched in by Bent from six yards.
However, United restored their two goal advantage five minutes later.
Rooney laid a pass off for Vidic and the United captain curled a powerful shot into the top corner.
"Goals always help strikers,'' United manager Alex Ferguson said of Rooney.
"He's always had a great appetite to play. It's inbred in the boy and he got his rewards eventually.''
"What happens in the run-in is that you keep knocking off the games,'' Ferguson said.
"What we have to do is keep the momentum going.''