Sir Alex Ferguson's team benefited from a controversial penalty decision at Old Trafford as Shaun Derry was dismissed after being harshly penalised for a foul on Ashley Young
Wayne Rooney scored from the penalty spot after Shaun Derry was very harshly sent off having been penalised for a challenge on Ashley Young in the box. The England winger appeared to be in an offside position as he looked to receive a Rooney through ball.
Paul Scholes added a second after the break to wrap up three points and pile the pressure on Manchester City, who face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium later on Sunday.
Sir Alex Ferguson made two changes to the side that beat Blackburn Rovers and reverted to a 4-4-2 formation. Danny Welbeck came in to lead the line ahead of Javier Hernandez, while Ashley Young replaced Phil Jones in midfield.
Jay Bothroyd replaced Bobby Zamora up front for the visitors, with Joey Barton left out in order to avoid collecting a tenth yellow card of the season. Akos Buzsaky stepped in for the former Newcastle midfielder alongside Shaun Derry and Samba Diakite.
If there is one area QPR must improve in order to enhance their survival prospects it is their disciplinary record, having been shown six red cards in the Premier League prior to his match, but they will justifiably argue that they were extremely hard done by when Derry was dismissed before 15 minutes had passed at Old Trafford.
Not only did Young fall after the slightest of touches as he turned to latch on to a pass that seemed to be heading into the arms of goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, but the winger had also begun his run in an offside position. The flag stayed down, referee Lee Mason pointed to the spot and dismissed Derry, and Rooney stroked home the resulting penalty kick.
In Manchester City's eyes, of course, the decision will only serve to further illustrate what Patrick Vieira claimed was favourable refereeing received by United at home. In truth, Ferguson's team were already well on top, having spent the opening quarter of an hour camped in the QPR half, and perhaps the most damaging aspect of the incident will be the Hoops' loss of Derry for three matches.
United continued to probe, with QPR's only real chance of the half coming when Adel Taarabt robbed Rafael of the ball close to David de Gea's goal only to be denied a shot on target by Jonny Evans' excellent block. Rooney tested Kenny with a well-executed chip from 20 yards that the Republic of Ireland international did well to retrieve.
It is difficult to remember Hughes looking as angry as he did when the half-time whistle was blown – at least since Michael Owen snatched a dramatic late winner when the Welshman visited Old Trafford as City manager – but he managed to restrain himself from approaching the officials as the teams departed down the tunnel.
One decision did go his side's way early in the second period, as Welbeck's celebrations were correctly cut short by the linesman when he converted Antonio Valencia's cross from close range.
United proceeded to regularly carve QPR open in the second half but struggled to find a clinical edge to their build-up play. Rafael was denied by Kenny from point blank range and Welbeck could not slide a shot past the former Sheffield United goalkeeper when played in by Rooney.
In the end, an experienced head once again proved the difference. Scholes' impact since his return from retirement has been enormous, and one of the keys to United's rise to the top of the table, and he proved his value once again here by slamming home a 20-yard shot to cap off a virtuoso performance in midfield.
Michael Carrick had been similarly imposing alongside Scholes and almost topped his teammate's effort to make it 3-0. His spectacular shot from 30 yards seemed to be flying into the top corner only to hit Kenny's right post.
Not too long ago United might have viewed a match like this as an opportunity to improve their potentially important goal difference but that statistic is beginning to feel less and less relevant as the Red Devils edge closer to a 20th league title.