Premier League: Manchester United 1 Everton 0

Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez scored a dramatic late winner to land a crucial blow to their rivals in their bid for the league title.

United looked like dropping crucial points for the second time in a week against a stubborn Everton side until Hernandez’s stunning 84th-minute strike.

The Mexican striker rose at the far post to head home Antonio Valencia’s perfect cross to seal the victory that keeps Chelsea and Arsenal at arms length.

It was nothing less than United deserved after dominating for large periods but coming up against a superb Everton defence marshalled by Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin.

Indeed, it could have been worse had either of two reasonable penalty shouts been given for the away side.

Sir Alex Ferguson, back in the dugout after a five-game ban, made five changes to the side that drew at Newcastle in midweek.

Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs were all rested with the Champions League semi-final at Schalke 04 looming on Tuesday.

There were few clear-cut chances in an otherwise entertaining opening half hour.

Nani wasted the best opportunity when Wayne Rooney found the Portuguese winger in the box, he greedily cut inside and shot straight at Tim Howard from a tight angle with Rooney and Hernandez waiting for a cutback.

But Everton had to survive a storm going into the break. United created a glorious opportunity in the 31st minute when Rooney’s long range was deflected into the path of Hernandez, whose first time strike from 15 yards was parried away by Howard.

Rooney and Hernandez brought saves from Howard while, on a rare foray, Everton had a penalty appeal turned away five minutes later when Jermaine Beckford went down in a challenge with Jonny Evans.

Nani wasted another golden chance for United when Valencia outmuscled Leighton Baines and laid the perfect pass into the path of Nani, who with the goal at his mercy, hit the ball against Hernandez, who had slipped over in the six-yard box.

Everton made a double substitution at half-time and almost got an instant reward when Victor Anichebe battle his way past Rio Ferdinand and into the box before, going down as the England defender scrambled back but again referee Peter Walton waved away penalty appeals.

And in the 65th minute, Edwin van der Sar had to be at his best to tip away a fierce 20-yard strike from apparent United target Jack Rodwell.

At the other end, United were struggling to break down the stubborn Everton defending but hit the post with a scuffed Michael Owen shot from Fabio’s near post cross while Howard saved well from a Rooney free-kick and Hernandez header.

But with six minutes to go, United grabbed the winner when Distin fluffed his clearance and when the ball reached Valencia, the winger picked out Hernandez to head home at the far post.