After second-placed Manchester City stumbled to a draw at QPR last night, it was an evening of opportunity for United, and after the early shock of falling behind to a Jay Rodriguez strike, Rooney rose to the challenge and fired both of United's goals in their 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
Rodriguez rocked the home support when he took advantage of a poor back pass by Michael Carrick and beat David De Gea to the ball before slotting home inside three minutes.
Rooney dragged United level five minutes later though when he produced a smart finish to convert Shinji Kagawa's pass, and then tapped in his second and the eventual winner after 27 minutes when Patrice Evra headed Robin van Persie's free-kick from the left across goal.
Liverpool looked to be cruising to victory at the Emirates Stadium when they led Arsenal 2-0 after an hour, but the home side scored twice in rapid succession to force a 2-2 draw.
Luis Suarez fired Liverpool ahead in the fifth minute with a deflected strike following a messy build-up and lax defending. And the Arsenal backline was at its shambolic worst again as Liverpool extended their lead after 59 minutes, allowing Jordan Henderson to barge through from the right flank and tuck the ball beyond Wojciech Szczesny.
Olivier Giroud maintained his recent excellent form to pull the first goal back five minutes later though, heading in powerfully from Jack Wilshere's free-kick, and the French striker laid off a pass from Wilshere into the path of Theo Walcott to drive in Arsenal's second in the 67th minute.
The draw was of little help to either side's hope of breaking into the Champions League places.
By contrast, Leighton Baines scored twice, with the first a crunching 20-yard drive and the second a penalty, as Everton beat West Brom 2-1 to move a point behind fourth-placed Tottenham.
The left-back raced forward to collect a pass from Leon Osman and fired into the top left corner as Everton went ahead in the 29th minute at Goodison Park. He then drilled in a penalty just before half-time after Victor Anichebe was brought down by Claudio Yacob.
It might have been comfortable for Everton after that but for a defensive blunder from Johnny Heitinga. The Dutch defender made a mess of attempting to block Romelu Lukaku's low shot, with the ball looping up for Shane Long to head in.
Tottenham could only manage a 1-1 draw at Norwich, and even that looked beyond them for a long while.
Wes Hoolahan converted Anthony Pilkington's cross to give Norwich a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute, but they could not hold it and Gareth Bale produced a superb equaliser after 80 minutes, tearing forward with the ball at his feet from the halfway line before cracking a powerful shot into the left corner.
Third-placed Chelsea were cruising at Reading until two late goals from substitute Adam Le Fondre stunned Rafael Benitez's side, earning the hosts a point from an improbable 2-2 draw.
Juan Mata's firm left-footed finish from Fernando Torres' pass in the 45th minute and Frank Lampard's header after 65 minutes put Chelsea in charge. Le Fondre rifled what looked like a consolation in the 87th minute, but then struck again with a close-range volley in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Fulham triumphed 3-1 in their London derby with West Ham at Craven Cottage thanks to goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Hugo Rodallega, both created by Damien Duff, and a late Joey O'Brien own goal.
Kevin Nolan brought West Ham briefly level in the 48th minute, but West Ham switched off at the back and Rodallega headed the winner a minute later when he beat three defenders and goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen to Duff's cross from the left. The late third was a bonus.
On Tuesday, Manchester City wasted a chance to close in on United after being held to a goalless draw at rock-bottom QPR.
The defending champions had the opportunity to put the pressure on their city rivals, with the Red Devils in action on Wednesday night, but found Julio Cesar in fine form.
Gareth Barry and David Silva both saw their efforts fantastically saved by the former Inter Milan goalkeeper, while Pablo Zabaleta's header from Silva's cross came back off the crossbar.
Adel Taarabt wasted QPR's best chance of the match when he saw his shot well saved by Joe Hart after bursting through on goal.
While the hosts remain rooted to the foot of the table, they are now just two points behind Reading.
Newcastle held off a spirited second-half resistance from Aston Villa to move four points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-1 win at Villa Park.
Toon boss Alan Pardew fielded two of his four new French signings and one of them, Moussa Sissoko, played in striker Papiss Cisse, who took a touch and slotted low past Brad Guzan in the 19th minute.
The visitors looked to be cruising to their first away victory in any competition this season when Yohan Cabaye magnificently volleyed into the top corner from 25 yards just after the half hour.
Villa were booed off at half-time, prompting beleaguered boss Paul Lambert to make two changes, with Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann replacing Joe Bennett and Darren Bent.
And the changes seemed to pay dividends as they won a penalty after Mathieu Debuchy was adjudged to have tripped Agbonlahor on the edge of the penalty area, with Christian Benteke sending Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul the wrong way in the 49th minute.
Krul, however, made several fine saves thereafter as Villa desperately pressed for an equaliser.
It was not be and they now occupy the final relegation place after second-half goals from James McArthur and Franco Di Santo helped Wigan rescue a 2-2 draw at Stoke.
The Potters looked firmly on course for the first Premier League win in five matches when Ryan Shawcross volleyed them ahead in the 23rd minute before Peter Crouch doubled their lead after Charlie Adam's strike had been parried by Latics goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi shortly after half-time.
But Wigan showed their battling qualities and halved the deficit almost immediately when McArthur coolly finished after running through on goal before Di Santo secured a well-earned point when he rifled into the net from McArthur's knockdown.
Sunderland target Danny Graham almost gave Swansea all three points in their clash at the Stadium of Light but the two teams had to settle for a goalless draw.
Graham, a 74th-minute substitute, looked set to fire home from point-blank range but Titus Bramble's valiant interception saved a point for the hosts.
Wednesday's Barclays Premier League Results
Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool
Everton 2-1 West Brom
Norwich 1-1 Tottenham
Fulham 3-1 West Ham
Man United 2-1 Southampton
Reading 2-2 Chelsea
Tuesday's Barclays Premier League Results
Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle
QPR 0-0 Man City
Stoke 2-2 Wigan
Sunderland 0-0 Swansea