Robin van Persie ended his goal drought as Manchester United restored its 15-point lead at the top of the Premier League table and deepened Stoke's relegation worries with a 2-0 victory.
Van Persie had gone 10 domestic matches without scoring but won and then converted a penalty in the 66th minute to make the points safe. Michael Carrick had opened the scoring inside four minutes and United now need only seven points from its remaining six games to ensure it can not be caught by Manchester City.
"It was an important point in the game. I had to score that one and thankfully it went in so after that the relief of a couple of weeks came out," Van Persie told Sky Sports 1.
Van Persie ran to the bench to celebrate with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been supportive of his striker during his dry spell, and explained he felt he should celebrate with all his teammates.
"I wanted to celebrate it with everyone, with the players, with the staff, all the players involved even on the bench because they have been great with me from day one," Van Persie said.
"Even when it was sometimes a little bit harder they still believed in me and they still support me and help me wherever they can so that's why I wanted to join them," he said.
Ferguson joked that van Persie "nearly killed me! He forgets I'm 71."
Stoke dropped to 16th before kickoff after Sunderland's win over Newcastle, having taken only one point from its past seven games.
Captain Nemanja Vidic was back from a calf injury in one of four United changes from Monday's derby defeat, while Stoke boss Tony Pulis had Glenn Whelan fit but Matthew Etherington and Marc Wilson were out so Charlie Adam and Andy Wilkinson started.
What the Potters really could not afford was a bad start, but they made exactly that, conceding a fourth-minute corner that they failed to clear, allowing Carrick to prod beyond the despairing dive of Asmir Begovic.
With Wayne Rooney dictating play from a deep-lying midfield role, United was completely in control. Rooney was given space and time to take aim from 25 yards with a shot pushed away by Asmir Begovic as Stoke struggled even to touch the ball.
Begovic was forced into another save just past the half-hour mark, scooping a Van Persie shot from a narrow angle behind. Stoke at least finished the half well as Wilkinson -- sporting a bandage on his head after being caught by a high Javier Hernandez boot -- barrelled down the right and into the area before seeing his shot blocked by Vidic.
An encouraging sign for Stoke was the increasing influence of Adam, and the midfielder tested David de Gea for the first time in the 59th minute with a well-struck shot from long range.
But the Potters' hopes were dealt a crushing blow when they gave away a penalty. A flowing move that began with Phil Jones holding off Jon Walters in United's right-back spot progressed through Antonio Valencia and Rooney, who picked out Van Persie in the area.
The Dutchman cut inside Wilkinson, who tripped him, and Van Persie stepped up to tuck his spot kick smartly into the bottom corner.