Manchester United made it four wins from four on a night where its dominance and its luck was exercised in equal measure.
Stoke City was the latest side to come undone against the ever-improving Red Devils, courtesy of goals from Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata.
Late, goal-line saves from goalkeeper David de Gea and then Ashley Young ensured the two goals were enough, after Steven N’Zonzi equalised to make it 1-1 before half-time with a powerful strike.
Manchester United controlled the game for the majority of the match but struggled to make clear-cut chances.
Michael Carrick was again almost faultless in midfield, controlling the tempo of the game and ensuring his team retained the ball.
Young was solid at left-back again, but his hesitance to cross with his left foot proved frustrating, especially for Robin van Persie who saw run after run go unrewarded.
Delivery aside, it was arguably Young’s best performance at full-back, combining industry with flair as he worked up and down the flank to cause Stoke plenty of problems.
Van Persie was joined up front by James Wilson, who was handed his first start of the van Gaal era.
He could not add to the two Premier League goals to his name, but showed glimpses of his quality, particularly in the second half.
Before that, it was Fellaini who put United in the lead when his late run put him on the end of a fabulous ball from Ander Herrera.
The big Belgian made no mistake from close range, powering his header home.
Fellaini was involved in a goal at the other end towards the end of the first half, when he went down clamping his neck despite minimal contact, allowing Stoke to continue forward.
The ball made it’s way to former Barcelona forward Bojan, who embarked on a tricky, direct run at the heart of the United defence.
He did not break through Chris Smalling’s defence, but he did draw the attention of Smalling and his fellow centre back Marcos Rojo, and when the ball rebounded to N’Zonzi, the midfielder made no mistakes from 20 yards with a fierce first-time strike beyond de Gea.
United was not put off, though, and came out in the second half in dominant fashion.
Again, it struggled to create clear cut chances, but eventually went ahead via a set-piece.
Juan Mata whipped in a deep free kick from the right wing and the ball evaded every, except maybe Marcos Rojo who may have got the faintest of touches.
In any case, the ball also evaded Asmir Begovic and bounced into the back of the net to put United 2-1 up.
With lead restored, United created a number of half-chances, but could not create a bigger gap.
The best chance fell to Wilson, who after picking up the ball in midfield drove at the heart of the Stoke defence, but curled his finish far of the wide post.
The teen striker had every right to go alone, but also had van Persie unmarked and could have set up the experienced Dutchman instead.
The miss almost came back to haunt his side.
Former United striker Mame Biram Diouf had two brilliant chances to snatch a point for Stoke in stoppage time, but was stopped by some desperate last-ditch efforts.
The first – a diving header – was saved by a sprawling de Gea and the second, only moments later, was blocked inches from crossing the line by the outstretched foot of Young.
It was a lucky break, but one United deserved on the back of the 92 minutes which preceded it.
The win keeps United in the top-four one point ahead of fifth-placed West Ham.