Manchester United handed manager David Moyes a timely boost with a deserved 1-0 UEFA Champions League victory over Real Sociedad.
Coming into the match on the back of one point from two Premier League home games against West Brom and Southampton, United turned in a largely impressive performance - with the exception of a nervy period after half-time - to retain top spot in Group A.
A spell of uncertainty at the back from the hosts was nothing compared to the defensive horror show with which Sociedad opened the contest, ultimately ensuring a third successive defeat of the group stage.
The decisive moment came in the second minute via Inigo Martinez's own goal after the impressive Wayne Rooney had struck the post.
Antonio Valencia came closest to extending United’s lead when he also struck the upright, but only after David De Gea saw his crossbar prevent Antoine Griezmann and Alberto de la Bella from bringing Sociedad level.
The big news before kick-off was United resting star striker Robin van Persie due to niggling toe and groin complaints and his absence from the squad meant a start for Javier Hernandez alongside the recalled Ryan Giggs and Shinji Kagawa.
Experienced midfielder Xabi Prieto earned his first Sociedad start for a month at the expense of Ruben Pardo.
Any tension around Old Trafford was blown away when Martinez put through his own goal to lauch a frantic opening period.
Patrice Evra tenaciously won possession on the left flank before Rooney bamboozled Sociedad's defence and unleashed a fierce strike against the upright. Martinez made the worst possible job of attempting to clear, instead diverting the ball home.
Rooney was at the heart of much of United's good work and he drew an excellent reaction save from Claudio Bravo when he met Rafael's 14th-minute cross
Sociedad finally threatened as the half-hour mark approached – De Gea clawing Haris Seferovic's deflected effort out of the top corner
They came closer still in the 42nd minute when Griezmann's 25-yard free-kick cannoned back off the underside of the crossbar.
The visitors displayed plenty of intent after the break and when a bout of penalty box pinball almost resulted in Jonny Evans putting through his own goal, the game's defensive anxiety had clearly shifted.
Phil Jones powered an unmarked header from another well-worked short corner to draw a sharp stop from Bravo but, in an increasingly stretched contest, De Gea's crossbar came to his rescue when Sociedad full-back De la Bella skewed a left-wing cross just before the hour.
It was United’s turn to test the Old Trafford furniture in the 64th minute as Rooney's delightful pass released Valencia down the right channel and he drilled against the base of the far post.
Kagawa saw his follow-up blocked and the ex-Borussia Dortmund player was then denied by a last-ditch tackle from Carlos Martinez having errantly chosen not to strike first time.
Valencia returned the favour to Rooney in the 71st minute with a flick-on that his team-mate blasted over.
Substitute Ashley Young and Rooney passed up late opportunities to add gloss to the scoreline as United all but ended Sociedad's qualification hopes.
|Coach: D. Moyes|
for Rafael 59'
for J. Hernández 80'
|League Two Preview: Shrewsbury, Wycombe and Burton vie for year-end top spot|
|Mancini not expecting big-money signings at Inter|
|Tottenham v Manchester United: Carrick expects tough return|
|Pearson eager to see Leicester resolve|
|Newcastle United v Everton: Martinez demands clinical touch|
|Liverpool v Swansea City: Rodgers backs returning Mignolet|
|Bayern can still improve - Sammer|
|Warnock sacked by Palace|
|Aston Villa v Sunderland: No club too big to go down, says Lambert|
|Hull City v Leicester City: Pearson vows to keep going|
|Stoke City v West Brom: Hughes targets elusive back-to-back wins|
|Rodgers dismisses Balotelli exit rumours|
|Modric will not rush Madrid return|
|Dyche pleased with Vokes return|
|Southampton v Chelsea: Koeman vows to go on the offensive|
|A-League Review: Six-goal Gosford thriller, Victory leave it late|
|Manchester City v Burnley: Pellegrini warns against complacency|
|Dortmund can fight on two fronts - Watzke|
|Sterling hails improved Liverpool belief|
|Rosicky eager to build on QPR winner|
|Wenger: ´We made it hard for ourselves´|
|Kane: Spurs eye top four|
|Di Maria in doubt for Spurs clash|
|Ba left out of Senegal AFCON squad|
|Redknapp frustrated by penalty call|
|Wenger sees Giroud wrongs|
|Premier League schedule a ´disgrace´, says Poyet|
|Championship Review: Bournemouth stay top, Heskey scores on Bolton debut|
|Hughes lauds Bojan performance|
|Koeman: Saints marching on|
|Pardew rues referee error|
|Arsenal 2 QPR 1: Sublime Alexis secures the spoils|
|Martinez questions Walters decision|
|Poyet laments Sunderland mistakes|
|League One Review: Swindon cruise to win over Walsall|
|Irvine aware of need for improvement|
|United still doing ´very bad things´ - Van Gaal|
|Lambert proud of players despite Swansea defeat|
|Warnock bemoans Palace defence|
|Bruce hails Hull´s spirit|
|Pochettino relieved to come away with victory|
|Dyche: We had our pocket pinched|
|Monk hails Fabianski performance|
|Pearson demands greater concentration from Leicester|
|Kompany set for City return|
|Rodgers hails character after battling win|
|League Two Review: Ainsworth frustrated by Luton, Shrewsbury go top|
|Everton 0 Stoke City 1: Lacklustre Everton slip to defeat|
|Sunderland 1 Hull City 3: Triumphant return for Bruce|
|Burnley 0 Liverpool 1: Sterling wins it at Turf Moor|
|Leicester City 1 Tottenham 2: Eriksen piles misery on Pearson´s men|
|Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 1: Rooney extends hosts´ streak|
|West Brom 1 Manchester City 3: Three and easy for in-form champions|
|Swansea City 1 Aston Villa 0: Hosts break Boxing Day duck|
|Crystal Palace 1 Southampton 3: Mane marks return with star performance|
|Allardyce upbeat despite defeat|
|Van Dijk happy at Celtic - Deila|
|Table-topping Chelsea delight Mourinho|
|Chelsea 2 West Ham 0: Mourinho´s men ease to victory|
|Suarez enjoying Messi, Neymar link-up|
|A-League Review: Garcia rescues point for Perth, Adelaide up to second|
|Poyet calls for mid-season break|
|Van Gaal rules out Januzaj move|
|Rodgers: Balotelli may have to get used to bench|
|Lallana: I was trying too hard|
|Walker juggles music, football careers in Sweden|
|Song to face ´brother from another mother´ Fabregas|
|Adriano announces Le Havre deal|
|Pardew braced for Old Trafford test|
|Lescott unfazed by City reunion|
|Tskhadadze appointed Georgia coach|
|United to finish top three - Ferdinand|
|Allardyce: Stamford Bridge stalemate saved my job|
|Southampton need three January signings, says Watson|
|Liverpool can make Champions League, says fanzine editor|
|Walsh: Hull clash crucial for Leicester|
|Toure, Aubameyang and Enyeama make shortlist for African gong|
|Docherty backs Chelsea to win two-horse race|
|Liverpool could benefit from Hyypia influence - Scales|
|Saudi Arabia name Asian Cup squad|
|Forty-year-old Cahill no problem for Postecoglou|