London – Manchester United will hope to profit from title rivals Manchester City's inactivity by opening up a 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a win at Fulham on Saturday.
Alex Ferguson's side were made to toil at home to Southampton on Wednesday before eventually emerging with a 2-1 victory that lifted them seven points above their nearest challengers.
With City not in action until a home game with Liverpool on Sunday, United can strike another psychological blow if they prevail at Craven Cottage.
Despite his side's struggle to beat Southampton, United captain Nemanja Vidic says the only thing that matters is putting points on the board.
“Winning games is important at this stage of the season,” he told in-house television channel MUTV.
“But we have to forget what has gone and focus on the next games. Nothing is finished yet. There is a long way to go, but we're in a good position.”
United and Fulham met as recently as last weekend, with Vidic and his colleagues winning 4-1 in a one-sided FA Cup fourth-round encounter at Old Trafford.
Fulham secured only their second win in eight games by overcoming West Ham United 3-1 on Wednesday, moving them eight points clear of the relegation zone.
With Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool all dropping points in mid-week, Everton capitalised by winning 2-1 at home to West Bromwich Albion to close to within a point of the Champions League places.
As Spurs do not play until Sunday, when they visit West Brom, David Moyes' side will move into the top four if they overcome a floundering Aston Villa team that sank into the relegation zone last weekend.
Leighton Baines scored both Everton's goals against West Brom and manager Moyes says the England left-back will have a key role to play in their push for a top-four finish.
“I think Bainesy has been playing really well and over the last couple of games, I've been thinking he needs another challenge,” said Moyes.
“He has to rise to it a little bit more and I think he has done that. He has picked himself up again.
“He has a lot of things going for him and he is turning out to be as good a left-back as there is.”
Arsenal go into their home game with Stoke City three points below Everton in sixth place, after coming back from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home to Liverpool.
“We have to focus on playing football and what we want to do to the opposition,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
“I believe the quality is there and we have to trust it and forget what happened in the past.”
Third-place Chelsea also recorded a 2-2 draw on Wednesday, although the context was quite different, as they conceded two late goals in a frustrating stalemate at relegation-threatened Reading.
Ahead of Saturday's trip to Newcastle United, interim manager Rafael Benitez has urged his players to cut out the avoidable errors that have prevented them from keeping pace with the top two.
“We all take responsibility,” said the Spaniard.
“We don't blame anyone – it's for us to analyse why we didn't kill the game off, and to work to stop the mistakes.”
With 14 games of the campaign remaining, Reading sit one place above the drop zone thanks to a superior goal difference to Wigan Athletic and Villa.
Queens Park Rangers, who host Norwich City on Saturday, remain bottom of the table despite a creditable 0-0 draw at home to Manchester City in mid-week.
However, they are now just four points from safety and manager Harry Redknapp managed to bolster their ranks by signing Christopher Samba, Jermaine Jenas and Andros Townsend on Thursday.
“It's great to be linking up with Harry again. Him being here was key to me making the move,” said Jenas, who joined on loan from Spurs.
Saturday (5pm unless otherwise stated): Arsenal v Stoke City, Everton v Aston Villa, Fulham v Manchester United (7.30pm), Newcastle United v Chelsea, Reading v Sunderland, West Ham United v Swansea City, Wigan Athletic v Southampton, Queens Park Rangers v Norwich City (2.45pm)
Sunday: West Bromwich Albion v Tottenham Hotspur (3.30pm), Manchester City v Liverpool (6pm) – Sapa-AFP