Wayne Rooney had a hand in all four goals as United edged a scrappy, but entertaining game laced with festive generosity at Hull City's KC Stadium.
The prolific striker opened the scoring in first half injury-time, before inadvertantly laying on the Tigers' equaliser with an errant backpass which spawned a Craig Fagan penalty. Rooney subsequently atoned, however, by drilling in an un-defendable cross which Andy Dawson turned into his own goal, before laying on a late third goal for Dimitar Berbatov.
United were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession for long periods, but just about did enough to deserve a victory reels in league leaders Chelsea to within two points, after the Blues' recent stuttering form continued on Boxing Day with a goalless draw at Birmingham.
Already armed with that opportunity to move closer to the summit, United's pre-match hopes were further bolstered by the sight of a back four containing four recognised defenders, after some partial respite from the recent spate of injuries. Recent mainstay Patrice Evra was rejoined by Rafael, Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown, allowing Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher to curtail their moonlighting and return to the centre of midfield.
With round pegs back in round holes, there was more comfort about United's opening than in recent weeks. It took just five minutes for the Reds to fashion the game's first chance, when Antonio Valencia outstripped marker Andy Dawson, sped down the right flank and crossed for Ryan Giggs, whose volley dropped onto the roof of Boaz Myhill's goal.
The on-song veteran again brushed the outside of the hosts' netting on 16 minutes. Kamil Zayatte was punished for an uncompromising shove on Rooney right on the edge of the area, and Giggs' free-kick curled agonisingly past the upright with Myhill beaten.