Robin Van Persie score an injury time free kick to send Manchester United six points clear at the top of the Premier League after beating rivals Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

The Dutchman’s late hammer blow ended City’s unbeaten home record and capped off a miserable week for Roberto Mancini after his side crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage on Tuesday.

And they lost further ground in the title race despite coming close to snatching an unlikely point after recovering from going two goals behind to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men before half time.

In fact the hosts looked the more likely to break the deadlock in a feisty opening to the 164th Manchester derby but Mario Balotelli, handed a surprise start by Mancini, skied Gael Clichy’s cross over from close range.

United hadn’t been in the game up until then but took the lead against the run of play in the 16th minute when Wayne Rooney’s low shot trickled past Joe Hart after near build up play from Robin Van Persie and Ashley Young.

Vincent Kompany then hobbled off with injury to be replaced by Kolo Toure, turning the tide in the visitors favour somewhat and just before the half hour mark they doubled their lead, Rooney clinically sweeping Rafael’s low cross in from six yard for the 15oth league goal of his career.

City came out fighting after the break but it wasn’t until Carlos Tevez came on for the ineffective Balotelli that they truly started to threaten David De Gea and they forced their way back into the game in controversial circumstances.

Just moments after Young had a goal disallowed for offside the home side sprung a quick attack that saw De Gea produce an excellent double save to deny David Silva and Tevez before Yaya Toure pounced to fire the ball into the net.

Silva then had an effort deflected onto the bar by De Gea’s shoulder before Zabaleta was left unmarked at the edge of the penalty to smash home through a crowd to bring City level four minutes from time.

But there was one last sting in the tail and it came from left boot of United’s £24 million striker. Rafael was clipped by Tevez 25-yards from goal on the right but that didn’t deter Van Persie from shooting and it proved to be a case of pot luck as Samir Nasri’s outstretched leg sent his free kick out of the reach of Hart.

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