Jamie Vardy’s stunning double strike gave leaders Leicester City a 2-0 win at home to Liverpool on Tuesday to maintain their title charge and inflate the England striker’s lofty stock to new heights.
Leicester, who maintained their three-point lead at the top of the table, had twice tested Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet in the first half with the Belgian brilliantly tipping over a Shinji Okazaki header and a curling effort from Riyad Mahrez.
Yet the fireworks were reserved for shortly after the restart when Vardy latched on to a hopeful long ball forward and let fly from 25 metres to put Leicester ahead after 60 minutes.
He added to his tally and made the game safe 11 minutes later with a more opportunistic effort, lifting the ball into the net past Mignolet from five metres for his 18th league goal of the season.
Manchester United meanwhile reminded their fans of a bygone era after a superb performance gave the winners of a record 20 English league titles a 3-0 home win over Stoke City.
Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial struck in the first half and Wayne Rooney was on target after the interval, scoring his 99th league goal at Old Trafford and taking his Premier League tally in January to five goals and two assists.
The result kept United in the hunt for a top-four finish, while it also eased the pressure on Dutch manager Louis van Gaal.
Before the kick-off, fans paid tribute to the club’s players and staff who perished in the Munich air crash on February 6, 1958 as the Stretford End unveiled a giant flag showing the victims’ images and the famous chant ‘We’ll never die.’
In line with the adventurous philosophy which spurred United to win a haul of trophies under former manager Alex Ferguson, they finally reverted to the attacking football that had been missing under Van Gaal.
But the heavily criticised 64-year-old could finally afford a smile as a fired up Rooney, backed by a fluid support cast of Lingard, Martial and Juan Mata, fired on all cylinders.
Elsewhere Manuel Pellegrini’s hopes of seeing out his Manchester City reign this season in a blaze of glory were boosted as the masterful Sergio Aguero delivered again in an unconvincing 1-0 win at struggling Sunderland.
One day after City announced Pep Guardiola would be taking over from Pellegrini as manager at the end of the season, the Chilean’s push for a second Premier League title received impetus from a familiar source as City’s matchless Argentine netted after just 16 minutes.
In Pellegrini’s 100th Premier League match in charge of City, Aguero’s typically composed finish after a deflected cross fell fortuitously at his predatory feet and allowed him take his league goal tally to 13 this season, including a dozen in his last 10 appearances.
Sunderland, suffering in penultimate position in the league, threw everything at City throughout the second half, forcing key saves from Joe Hart after Billy Jones had come closest to equalising just before the break when he hit the post.
In London Southampton keeper Fraser Forster produced a series of stunning saves to frustrate Arsenal and leave the Gunners without a win in four league games.
Forster twice denied Mesut Ozil in the first half as Arsenal struggled to create opportunities.
He was even busier in the second half as the hosts pressed for a breakthrough, making one flying save to keep out a curler from Olivier Giroud and two efforts from Theo Walcott who came on as a substitute.
Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez, making his first start since November after returning from injury, had another effort cleared off the line as Southampton hung on.
The Gunners have now slipped to fourth spot.
Second-half goals from Michail Antonio and Cheikhou Kouyate gave West Ham United a 2-0 win over 10-man Aston Villa that maintained the London club’s push for European football next season and left their opponents looking increasingly forlorn.
Villa’s cause was made immeasurably more difficult after 17 minutes when Jordan Ayew had a moment of madness and swung his elbow into the face of West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell, earning himself a straight red card.
It took West Ham until the 58th minute, however, to break the deadlock with Antonio guiding a header into the net following an excellent crossfield ball from Mark Noble.
They doubled the lead when Kouyate lifted the ball into the roof of the net after 85 minutes.
West Ham are sixth on 39 points while Villa stay rooted to the foot of the table on 13.