French defender Mikael Silvestre's first goal of the season gave Manchester United a precious 2-1 win over Leeds United on Wednesday to move his team within five points of premier league leaders Arsenal.
The title hopes of third-placed Newcastle United suffered a body blow, though, when they lost 1-0 at Middlesbrough in the north-east derby to a second-half strike from Cameroon's Geremi.
Victory at Old Trafford moved Manchester United onto 58 points, with champions Arsenal on 63 and Newcastle stuck on 55.
United manager Alex Ferguson, whose men shrugged off Sunday's League Cup final defeat against Liverpool, told Sky Sports, "Today was a gritty performance, we carved out a result through determination and resilience."
As for the title race, he said: "We're still in there. You've got to hope that Arsenal do drop points and if they do then it's up to us to take advantage.
"If we don't, as we have slipped up a few times this year when Arsenal have dropped points, then really we've thrown it away.
"But the thing is we're there and hopefully we can keep going and make a real race of it."
Paying tribute to his team's determination to get such a vital result in a demanding week, Ferguson said, "It's difficult to come off a defeat in a cup final, the emotions and tensions of Sunday's final definitely seep into the players.
"But we had to play tonight because of the fixture congestion and we're glad we've got the result from a very difficult game ... you've got to give them credit because they kept on going and that's quality."
Ferguson reported injuries to skipper Roy Keane (hamstring), Juan Sebastian Veron, Quinton Fortune (groin) and Silvestre, saying, "I think there were a lot of limping bodies out there who managed to get a result."
Silvestre stooped to head home a quickly-taken free kick by David Beckham in the 79th minute, catching the entire Leeds defense out of position and giving goalkeeper Paul Robinson no chance.
United had taken a 20th-minute lead through an own goal from Leeds' South African defender Lucas Radebe, as he tried to intercept another Beckham cross, but they failed to make their near-total domination pay and were punished for slack marking by Mark Viduka's equalizer in the 64th minute.
United responded by piling on the pressure and the win means Ferguson's men are still set to challenge Arsenal for title honors, while Newcastle have to aim for a Champions League place.
Newcastle, whose strikers Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy failed to make any headway at the Riverside, were condemned to their first defeat in nine league games when Geremi headed home a cross from French defender Franck Queudrue in the 62nd minute.
Boro manager Steve McClaren, whose team moved up to 11th in the table, told Sky Sports: "It was a great goal, I thought we deserved it and that we deserved the win tonight.
"We defended well, we were organized, we were strong, we were solid and we passed the ball well ... we looked a bloody good team," McClaren said. "And we won tonight against a team who are third and [previously] unbeaten [in the league] this year."
Boro could also celebrate a first start this season for Brazil midfielder Juninho, who came on as a substitute to score the equalizer in last Saturday's 1-1 draw with Everton after a six-month injury absence.
But for Bobby Robson's Newcastle, as Shearer pointed out, "a very good run has come to end. It's bitterly disappointing, it's not a nice feeling.