Champions leave it late before Valencia and Young extend gap over neighbours

Manchester United's Ashley Young celebrates with his teammates after scoring his side's second goal. PA
Manchester United's Ashley Young celebrates with his teammates after scoring his side's second goal. PA
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Late goals from Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young sent champions Manchester United five points clear at the top of the Premier League last night with victory over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini had expressed the hope that Rovers would continue their sequence of just two defeats in 12 home league games against their North-West neighbours.

If he was watching, the Italian could have no complaints about Blackburn’s performance.

But after a succession of excellent saves from David De Gea, United finally made their own pressure tell, with Valencia breaking the deadlock 10 minutes from time before Young added another.

The result also saw Rovers drop back into the bottom three on goal difference.

That is of little interest in Manchester, though.

City’s failure to beat Sunderland on Saturday had created a fevered atmosphere among the 7,000-strong visiting contingent.

Having celebrated winning title No 19 in the corresponding fixture last term, they were ready to party again, believing a 20th was on the way.

It was after a particularly dire performance in the Old Trafford encounter between these sides on New Year’s Eve that De Gea was axed. Such has been the dramatic improvement since then, though, that it was not much of a surprise when the Spain Under-21 star tipped Junior Hoilett’s effort over.

Then, in a frantic final minute before the break, both Marcus Olsson and Grant Hanley – Blackburn’s Old Trafford match-winner – were repelled.

Blackburn thought they had put themselves in line for a possible shock win when Morten Gamst Pedersen rasped a shot home from 20 yards.

The home supporters were deflated, though, as it was ruled correctly that the ball had just crossed the line for a goal-kick before Steven Nzonzi pulled it back.

The champions made the most of the reprieve nine minutes from time when Ecuador winger Valencia cut in from the right and blasted a shot which swerved past Paul Robinson with pace and power.

Young added another five minutes later with a neat turn and a shot which curved from outside the goal and found its way inside Robinson’s left-hand post by a matter of inches.

The win means that United have a chance to move eight points clear of City before their neighbours’ next game – the Reds are at home to QPR on Sunday ahead of City’s trip to Arsenal.