LONDON: Manchester United let in their first goal in the Premier League in three months, but still stretched their lead at the top of the table with a 2-1 win on Saturday against an unlucky Blackburn at Old Trafford.
Blackburn Rovers' Gael Givet (R) challenges Manchester United's Nani during their English Premier League soccer match in Manchester February 21, 2009. [Agencies]
United's victory meant that second-placed Liverpool were eight points adrift of the English, European and world champions when they kicked at home to Manchester City on Sunday.
England striker Wayne Rooney put United ahead in the 23rd minute.
However, after 1,337 minutes - more than 22 hours - without a dent in their goals against column, United's defence was pierced after the half-hour mark.
United manager Alex Ferguson, presumably with an eye on Tuesday's last 16 Champions League clash with Inter Milan, opted to play Tomasz Kuszczak in goal rather than Edwin van der Sar, who recently broke the British record for most minutes without conceding a league goal.
But Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz, released by Andre Ooijer's precise pass, rounded Kuszczak before finishing from a tight angle.
Rovers, belying their status as a bottom three club, nearly went ahead just before the hour mark when New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen hit the post with a well-struck shot.
Two minutes later United's Cristiano Ronaldo, booked for diving by referee Howard Webb having escaped a yellow card for earlier kicking out, made it 2-1 with a brilliant curling free kick from the left edge of the box.
Rovers were then denied a legitimate penalty when Morten Gamst Pedersen was pulled back in the box by United full-back Rafael da Silva.
A relieved Ferguson said: "We deserved it - just - no more than that. When you consider how we've defended over the last few weeks it was a very soft goal to give away.
"This is a great lesson. It tells us exactly what this league is like. I've said all along there is no way we can predict we are going to win the league when we get difficult games like this."