Manchester United again failed to make up ground on the English Premier League leaders as they began 2015 with a 1-1 draw at Stoke City in Thursday's early kickoff - with Manchester City later going nine points clear in second with a dramatic 3-2 win over Sunderland..
Extending their unbeaten run to 10 matches will be little consolation to United manager Louis van Gaal, whose talk of a title challenge last month has been muted by three draws in the last four games.
And he’ll be left to ponder another disjointed performance by his team, who were lucky not to lose after Stoke had a good penalty appeal turned down in the second half.
Leaders Chelsea were playing Tottenham in Thursday's late kickoff.
City were goalless in the first half at the Etihad, but the game opened up after Yaya Toure's strike and it was 2-2 before Frank Lampard gave City the points with quarter of an hour to play.
|Yaya Toure opened the scoring in City's 3-2 win [GALLO/GETTY]
Liverpool had also gone two up against Leicester, both goals coming from Steven Gerrard, before the bottom side salvaged a point to draw 2-2 and keep Brendan Rodgers' team lagging in eighth.
Southampton went three points clear of Arsenal in fifth as they beat Arsene Wenger's side 2-0 on the south coast, while Everton fell to a fourth consecutive defeat, losing 2-0 at Hull.
Gusts of wind at the Britannia Stadium made set pieces dangerous and ex-United trainee Ryan Shawcross put the home side 1-0 up when he hooked home Peter Crouch’s header from the first corner after two minutes.
Mame Biram Diouf, once a goalscorer for United under Alex Ferguson, should have made it 2-0 in the 18th minute when Jonny Evans let Marko Arnautovic’s long ball bounce over his head.
The Senegalese striker robbed the Northern Irishman, but ballooned the ball over with David de Gea’s goal at his mercy.
Eight minutes later they were punished as Radamel Falcao scored his third United goal, converting Michael Carrick’s header after Robin van Persie had done well to convert a poor through-ball for Falcao into a corner.
The second half saw United create few chances and withstand a barrage from Stoke, whose former England striker Crouch saw his header batted down in the box by the hands of Chris Smalling.
Referee Michael Oliver, who had sent off Smalling in the 1-0 derby loss to Manchester City, waved play on.
Robin van Persie went close to making it 2-1 with an improvised lob but a single point for United was made worse when Ashley Young - thriving in recent games as a wingback in Van Gaal’s 3-4-3 formation - went off injured.
“We didn’t deserve any more than a draw,” the Dutchman told the BBC, before confirming Young had a hamstring injury. “They were closer to a winning goal than us.
"We have to play better in away matches. In my opinion, there is no difference in away matches to those at home - our fans are fantastic. We have to do better.”