Robin van Persie answered his critics with a first Premier League goal in a month as Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 victory over Hull to remain in the top four on Saturday.
Defender Chris Smalling and striker Wayne Rooney also scored as United completed a hat trick of wins for the first time under Louis van Gaal.
After a slow start to the season, United’s bid to return to the Champions League appears to be on track.
United is two points behind Manchester City, which plays at second-placed Southampton on Sunday. Hull is only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
The only downside for United, in a season that has already been blighted by injuries, was the loss of record signing Angel di Maria early on with a hamstring problem, while Rooney limped off after taking a blow in stoppage time.
Although Van Gaal expects Rooney to be fit to face Stoke on Tuesday, the manager said Di Maria is out of the match.
Even without the Argentinian from the 14th minute, United strolled through Saturday’s game, while Hull struggled to gain a meaningful touch in the first half.
Van Gaal fielded a back four instead of his normal three-man back line, with Smalling and Marcos Rojo, the only specialist defenders in the side, filling the center back spots.
Smalling looked like a player transformed from the man sent off in the loss at Manchester City four weeks ago, attacking with vigor and looking composed in all areas of the field.
United was intent on attack with Juan Mata and Di Maria deployed in support of Rooney and Van Persie, who was retained despite recent poor form and the availability of Radamel Falcao after injury.
It was Rooney who set the tone when he cut inside and flashed a shot wide after five minutes. And after Di Maria came off, United actually looked sharper with Ander Herrera on the field.
Smalling’s opener in the 16th owed much to poor Hull defending and goal-line technology.
Hull failed to deal with Rooney’s corner and Van Persie nipped in to head at goal. It was a weak effort but goalkeeper Allan McGregor flapped unconvincingly and Smalling diverted it back toward goal. McGregor got in the way for a second time but could not prevent it crossing the line.
The game began to resemble a training exercise at times, such was the ease with which United controlled possession.
When Herrera headed down Juan Mata’s cross, Curtis Davies had chance to clear but hesitated and paid the price. Van Persie laid the ball off to Rooney and the captain hit a crisp low strike past McGregor from 20 yards (meters) in the 42nd.
Van Persie’s goal came in the 66th, turning James Chester on the edge of the box and rifling a left-footed shot into the roof of the net. The Netherlands striker made way for fit-again Falcao moments later but had made a point after a week of heavy criticism.