Record signing Juan Mata made a confident start to his Manchester United career by playing his part in a morale-boosting win over Cardiff, as Robin van Persie scored on his return after 11 games out.

Six days after United's calamitous Capital One Cup semi-final defeat by Sunderland, Mata improved the mood around Old Trafford by helping to create Van Persie's opener as United kept in touch with the race for next season's Champions League.

Ashley Young cracked in a superb 25-yard shot after the break to make the game more comfortable against a quicksilver Cardiff side.

Moyes: Man Utd lifted by strikers' return

And although Mata missed two decent chances to crown his debut with a goal, it was an evening of several positives for manager David Moyes as his new £37.1m acquisition departed late on to a standing ovation.

One was the way the 25-year-old Spaniard quickly linked well with his new team-mates following his arrival from Chelsea, while United were also boosted by the return from injury of strikers Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, the latter starting on the bench.

It was not a totally fluent performance, but it brought three points that moved United within two of sixth-placed Everton and made them the first team to win 1,000 points at home in the Premier League.

After losing four of their past six games, the win and the return of key personnel will give United a chance to build momentum before they face Premier League leaders Arsenal on 12 February.

It was a less happy evening for Cardiff boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was denied a winning return to the club where he was such a prolific striker. His side enjoyed good spells but could not find a cutting edge to go with their possession.

Despite two wins in the FA Cup, the 40-year-old Norwegian is still looking for his first league win as his side remain bottom of the table.

After a miserable month for Moyes's side, the atmosphere has been similarly gloomy at Old Trafford.

But following Mata's signing on Sunday and news of Van Persie and Rooney's return, there was a sense of optimism before kick-off.

Mata of stats

Juan Mata

Juan Mata made more passes [52] than any other Manchester United player on his debut, with a completion rate of 86.5%.

And it continued into the match as United took a sixth-minute lead, with Mata involved.

The attacking midfielder, who played behind striker Van Persie, raked the ball out to the left from a deep position and, after Antonio Valencia headed Young's cross onto the bar, the Dutchman scored from close range at the second attempt.

It was a dream start for United and it could have been even better before half-time.

Mata almost set up Young for a second United goal but the winger was inches from the Spaniard's deep cross before Van Persie pulled an effort wide from a narrow angle.

Although Cardiff had fewer chances before the break, they were dangerous on the counter-attack with Craig Noone lively and Mark Hudson drawing a stop from David De Gea following a corner.

There were further nervous moments for the hosts in the second half as Cardiff continued to break quickly.

But Young's strike out of the blue before the hour mark led to a more comfortable spell for Moyes's side.

Mata and Jonny Evans both had decent long-range efforts and, with the crowd urging United to attack, Rooney replaced Van Persie for his first action since 1 January following a groin injury.

His lob almost brought a third goal, as did a Valencia strike that Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall turned onto the post.

For Moyes, though, this was an encouraging evening that suggested his January transfer dealings have already had a more positive impact than last summer's did.

Check out photos from Tuesday's Premier League matches on the BBC Sport Facebook page. 

'Unbelievable' debut delights Mata

Lineup, Bookings (1) & Substitutions (6)

Manchester United

  • 01 de Gea
  • 02 Rafael
  • 03 Evra
  • 04 Jones
  • 12 Smalling
  • 06 Evans
  • 25 Antonio Valencia
  • 11 Giggs (Cleverley - 71' )
  • 20 van Persie (Rooney - 63' )
  • 08 Mata (Januzaj - 85' )
  • 18 Young

Substitutes

  • 10 Rooney
  • 13 Lindegaard
  • 14 Hernández
  • 23 Cleverley
  • 24 Fletcher
  • 26 Kagawa
  • 44 Januzaj

Cardiff City

  • 01 Marshall
  • 25 McNaughton
  • 42 John
  • 07 Whittingham
  • 04 Caulker
  • 05 Hudson (Turner - 69' )
  • 16 Noone (Daehli - 78' )
  • 08 Medel
  • 10 Campbell
  • 18 Mutch (Kim - 52' )
  • 39 Bellamy Booked

Substitutes

  • 06 Turner
  • 13 Kim
  • 15 Wolff Eikrem
  • 17 Gunnarsson
  • 29 Daehli
  • 32 Lewis
  • 34 Berget
Ref: Craig Pawson
Att: 75,301

Match Stats

Shots

17 7

On target

5 1

Corners

5 5

Fouls

9 9

Live Text Commentary

Full time

Full Time Match ends, Manchester United 2, Cardiff City 0.

90:00 +4:02 Full time

Full Time Second Half ends, Manchester United 2, Cardiff City 0.

90:00 +2:02

Attempt missed. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Adnan Januzaj.

90:00 +0:10

Attempt missed. Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Patrice Evra.

87:09

Corner, Cardiff City. Conceded by Phil Jones.

87:07

Attempt blocked. Kim Bo-Kyung (Cardiff City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Declan John.

85:48

Attempt missed. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) right footed shot from more than 35 yards misses to the right. Assisted by Patrice Evra with a headed pass.

85:04

Corner, Cardiff City. Conceded by Rafael.

84:29

Corner, Cardiff City. Conceded by Chris Smalling.

84:01 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Manchester United. Adnan Januzaj replaces Juan Mata.

83:18

Offside, Manchester United. Juan Mata tries a through ball, but Ashley Young is caught offside.

82:15

Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

82:15

Foul by Phil Jones (Manchester United).

81:04

Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Ben Turner.

79:25

Attempt blocked. Juan Mata (Manchester United) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Patrice Evra.

79:00

Foul by Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City).

79:00

Phil Jones (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

78:00 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Cardiff City. Mats Daehli replaces Craig Noone.

73:51

Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Craig Noone.

73:48

Attempt saved. Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Phil Jones with a through ball.

71:55

Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Steven Caulker.

71:53

Attempt blocked. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Juan Mata.

71:35

Foul by Gary Medel (Cardiff City).

71:35

Juan Mata (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the right wing.

70:38 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Manchester United. Tom Cleverley replaces Ryan Giggs.

68:13 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Cardiff City. Ben Turner replaces Mark Hudson because of an injury.

68:12

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

67:13

Delay in match Mark Hudson (Cardiff City) because of an injury.

65:52

Attempt saved. Kim Bo-Kyung (Cardiff City) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.

64:01

Attempt missed. Jonny Evans (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Phil Jones.

62:49 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Manchester United. Wayne Rooney replaces Robin van Persie.

61:47

Attempt saved. Juan Mata (Manchester United) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Ashley Young.

60:17

Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City) wins a free kick on the left wing.

60:17

Foul by Juan Mata (Manchester United).

58:18 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Manchester United 2, Cardiff City 0. Ashley Young (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Juan Mata.

54:39

Attempt missed. Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Kevin McNaughton with a cross.

51:37

Attempt missed. Robin van Persie (Manchester United) header from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Ryan Giggs with a cross following a set piece situation.

51:19 Substitution

Substitution Substitution, Cardiff City. Kim Bo-Kyung replaces Jordon Mutch because of an injury.

51:18

Delay over. They are ready to continue.

50:42

Delay in match Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City) because of an injury.

50:06

Ashley Young (Manchester United) wins a free kick on the left wing.

50:06

Foul by Craig Noone (Cardiff City).

47:17

Offside, Manchester United. Ashley Young tries a through ball, but Juan Mata is caught offside.

45:11

Foul by Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United).

45:11

Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

45:00

Second Half begins Manchester United 1, Cardiff City 0.

45:00 +1:02 Half time

Half Time First Half ends, Manchester United 1, Cardiff City 0.

43:10

Offside, Manchester United. Jonny Evans tries a through ball, but Robin van Persie is caught offside.

42:34

Hand ball by Ashley Young (Manchester United).

39:24

Corner, Cardiff City. Conceded by David de Gea.

38:09

Attempt blocked. Phil Jones (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

34:09

Attempt missed. Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City) header from the right side of the six yard box misses to the left. Assisted by Kevin McNaughton with a cross.

33:06

Attempt missed. Robin van Persie (Manchester United) left footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Patrice Evra following a corner.

32:44

Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Kevin McNaughton.

31:46

Foul by Juan Mata (Manchester United).

31:46

Peter Whittingham (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

31:08

Attempt blocked. Peter Whittingham (Cardiff City) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

30:19

Attempt blocked. Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Juan Mata.

29:22

Chris Smalling (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

29:22

Foul by Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City).

27:47

Foul by Phil Jones (Manchester United).

27:47

Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City) wins a free kick on the left wing.

25:15

Foul by Patrice Evra (Manchester United).

25:15

Craig Noone (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

23:25

Attempt blocked. Mark Hudson (Cardiff City) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Peter Whittingham with a cross.

22:52

Corner, Cardiff City. Conceded by Chris Smalling.

22:08

Foul by Juan Mata (Manchester United).

22:08

Gary Medel (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

21:33

Attempt missed. Jonny Evans (Manchester United) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Juan Mata with a cross following a set piece situation.

20:54 Booking

Booking Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City) is shown the yellow card.

20:49

Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

20:49

Foul by Mark Hudson (Cardiff City).

19:52

Jonny Evans (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

19:52

Foul by Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City).

18:04

Offside, Cardiff City. Jordon Mutch tries a through ball, but Craig Bellamy is caught offside.

16:58

Attempt missed. Craig Noone (Cardiff City) left footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Fraizer Campbell.

16:08

Juan Mata (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

16:08

Foul by Gary Medel (Cardiff City).

12:53

Offside, Cardiff City. Peter Whittingham tries a through ball, but Fraizer Campbell is caught offside.

9:03

Offside, Manchester United. Ashley Young tries a through ball, but Patrice Evra is caught offside.

6:49

Hand ball by Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City).

5:43 Goal scored

Goal! Goal! Manchester United 1, Cardiff City 0. Robin van Persie (Manchester United) header from the left side of the six yard box to the top left corner.

5:42

Attempt saved. Robin van Persie (Manchester United) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.

5:40

Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) hits the bar with a header from very close range. Assisted by Ashley Young with a cross.

4:29

Chris Smalling (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

4:29

Foul by Jordon Mutch (Cardiff City).

2:30

Foul by Luis Antonio Valencia (Manchester United).

2:30

Craig Bellamy (Cardiff City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

1:06

Corner, Manchester United. Conceded by Steven Caulker.

0:00

First Half begins.

0:00

Lineups are announced and players are warming up.

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