United extended their lead at the summit to seven points following a controversial and thrilling 4-3 victory over Newcastle.
Javier Hernandez struck a 91st-minute half-volley to snatch all three points after second-half goals from Patrice Evra and Robin van Persie twice pulled the Red Devils level, sandwiching a fine finish from Papiss Cisse.
James Perch's fifth-minute opener for Newcastle, scored following poor keeping from David de Gea, was cancelled out when Jonny Evans stabbed home from close range.
Confusion shrouded Newcastle's second, which was initially disallowed for offside against Cisse after Evans had directed the ball into his own net.
But having ruled out the goal, referee Mike Dean overturned his own decision after consulting the linesman as Cisse had not connected with the ball.
Furious United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, believing that Cisse had interfered with play due to his positioning, demonstrated to the officials before the second half began, but was soon comforted by Evra's equaliser.
In the late game at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke recovered from conceding Steven Gerrard's early penalty to beat Liverpool 3-1 in the Potteries.
Jon Walters and Kenwyne Jones helped the hosts into a 2-1 lead after 12 minutes, and Walters scored the goal of the game on 49, when he chest controlled a flick-on from a throw-in and thumped home a stunning volley.
Champions Manchester City slipped back in the title race after losing 1-0 at Sunderland.
Adam Johnson was on target against his former club, helped by a weak save from Joe Hart, who was overshadowed by the heroics of Simon Mignolet in Sunderland's goal.
Chelsea capitalised on the ground lost by City by dispatching Norwich 1-0 at Carrow Road thanks to a superb finish from Juan Mata, with Oscar supplying the ammunition. The Blues, in third place, now trail City by just four points.
In the day's 5.30pm kick-off, Gareth Bale bagged a second-half hat-trick as Tottenham returned to the top four with a comfortable 4-0 victory at Aston Villa.
After dominating the first half without managing to make a breakthrough, Spurs went ahead in the 57th minute when Jermain Defoe nutmegged Brad Guzan to register his 14th goal of the season.
Bale - who had already gone close twice - then stole the show, netting in the 61st, 73rd and 84th minutes to take his own tally for the campaign to 10.
The result ensures Tottenham keep up their push for Champions League football, moving them up to fourth in the table, level on points with fifth-placed Everton and sixth-placed West Brom, who had both won earlier in the day.
The picture is somewhat different for Villa, who had been looking to bounce back from the 8-0 mauling they suffered at Chelsea three days ago but instead were beaten comprehensively once again and remain only three points above the relegation zone in 16th place.
QPR slipped to the second defeat of Harry Redknapp's reign, with their 2-1 loss to West Brom dumping them at the foot of the table.
Chris Brunt was on target from 30 yards with a first-time shot to nudge the Baggies ahead in a delayed kick-off at Loftus Road before keeper Rob Green tipped the ball into his own net while under pressure from Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Stephane Mbia set up Djibril Cisse as QPR pulled one back and they should have had an injury-time penalty when Liam Ridgewell handled the ball as they dominated the closing minutes.
Rickie Lambert struck an 86th-minute penalty to secure Southampton a vital point in a 1-1 draw with Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Dimitar Berbatov gave Fulham the lead in a tight match after pouncing from close range when Kelvin Davis failed to deal with a cross by Sascha Riether.
But Chris Baird then handled the ball and Lambert rifled an unstoppable spot-kick past Mark Schwarzer.
Reading piled on the pressure in the second half against Swansea but had to settle for a goalless draw with Adam Le Fondre prevented by a last-gasp header from Chico Flores.
The point enabled them to swap places with QPR, climbing to 19th.
It took a significant deflection for Everton to break the deadlock in a 2-1 victory over Wigan at Goodison, with Leon Osman's shot connecting with Gary Caldwell before finding the net.
Wigan had a strong penalty claim after Shaun Maloney was felled by Osman, but referee Lee Mason was unmoved and Phil Jagielka produced a second-half header before Arouna Kone pulled one back for the Latics.