Manchester United dented Tottenham’s top-four hopes while strengthening their own with a 3-0 win at Old Trafford thanks to three first-half strikes.

United, who had lost to Spurs’ north London rivals Arsenal in the FA Cup on Monday night at Old Trafford, were two up within 19 minutes through Maroune Fellaini’s fine finish from 12 yards and Michael Carrick’s precise header.

Rooney added United’s third after a mistake in Spurs’ midfield, and celebrated by punching the air and falling to the ground in response to newspaper reports he had been “knocked out” by Sunderland’s Phil Bardsley in a boxing match in his kitchen.

The result leaves Spurs six points off fourth-place United in the Premier League table, and means Louis van Gaal’s side are now five points ahead of Liverpool, who travel to Swansea on Monday night.

United came out of the blocks brightest and were ahead after just nine minutes after Carrick fed Fellaini in behind the Spurs defence.

Fellaini had plenty to do from 12 yards, but the Belgian’s left-footed effort across Hugo Lloris found the corner of the net.

Provider Carrick then turned scorer 10 minutes later, heading superbly into the bottom corner through a crowd of players from 12 yards after Fellaini’s header from a corner had been cleared by Nacer Chadli.

United had plenty of joy down the left channels as Ashley Young, Daley Blind and Fellaini combined throughout the first half to the detriment of Spurs, forcing Mauricio Pochettino to substitute Andros Townsend for Moussa Dembele after just 30 minutes.

But it was a mistake in Tottenham’s midfield that led to United’s third 11 minutes before the break, as Rooney capitalised on a wayward pass from Nabil Bentaleb.

Picking the ball up with 45 yards to goal, the forward shook off Bentaleb before knocking the ball past Eric Dier and slotting beyond the reach of Lloris from near the penalty spot.

The morning’s newspaper reports clearly had not fazed Rooney, and he celebrated by pretending to be a boxer, jokingly punching the air and falling to the ground as if he had been knocked out.

United kept up their intensity in the second half without ever testing Lloris in the Spurs goal, while Pochettino’s side had to wait until the 48th minute for their first attempt.

Spurs had their best opportunity in the last minute of the game, but Harry Kane saw his effort from 10 yards out saved by the foot of David De Gea.

Manchester United now go to Anfield to face Liverpool next Sunday, with Brendan Rodgers’ side currently their closest challengers for the fourth Champions League spot.

Player ratings:

Man Utd: De Gea (6), Valencia (6), Jones (6), Smalling (6), Blind (7), Carrick (7), Herrera (6), Mata (7), Fellaini (8), Young (7), Rooney (7)

Subs: Rafael (5), A Pereira (6), Falcao (6)

Tottenham: Lloris (5), Walker (4), Dier (4), Vertonghen (5), Rose (5); Bentaleb (4), Mason (5); Chadli (5), Eriksen (5), Townsend (4); Kane (5)

Subs: Dembele (5), Lamela (5), Adebayor (5)

Man of the match: Marouane Fellaini

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