Chelsea in another easy triumph

Hernan Crespo and Arjen Robben scored first-half goals on Saturday to lift Chelsea to a 2-0 win over 19th-place Birmingham City and keep it 11 points clear in the English title race.

Second-place Manchester United outplayed Bolton 4-1 with two strikes by Cristiano Ronaldo, and third-place Liverpool made it 10 straight wins by edging relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion 1-0 through Peter Crouch’s goal.

With Tottenham beating Newcastle 2-0, all top four clubs won.

There was more woe for Newcastle as England striker Michael Owen limped off with a broken bone in his foot. The Magpies say he will be out of action for eight to 10 weeks.

Arsenal was held 0-0 at Aston Villa and, in the other games on the final day of 2005, Charlton downed West Ham 2-0, Everton won 1-0 at last-place Sunderland, Portsmouth edged Fulham 1-0, Blackburn won 2-0 at Wigan, and Middlesbrough tied 0-0 with Manchester City.

Starting in place of Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge, Crespo scored in the 25th minute after Birmingham goalkeeper Maik Taylor had blocked a shot from Arjen Robben.

In the 43rd, Crespo’s shot hit the crossbar and Robben made it 2-0 after receiving the ball on the left from Eidur Gudjohnsen.

After dropping two points against Birmingham City, Manchester United couldn’t afford to slip up against Bolton at Old Trafford.

Although Bolton’s veteran midfielder Gary Speed equalised after an early own goal by defender Bruno N’Gotty, United took control with Louis Saha’s strike and two more by Ronaldo.

Liverpool made it five shutout victories in a row over West Brom with Crouch taking his tally to seven goals in seven games with the only goal in the 52nd. Liverpool’s winning streak is its best since former manager Bob Paisley’s 1982 team won 11.

At White Hart Lane, Tottenham midfielder Teemu Tainio scored his first goal in English soccer two minutes before halftime after Egypt striker Ahmed Mido had flicked the ball to him. Mido added the second in the 66th.

At Villa Park, Czech Republic striker Milan Baros missed a great chance to put Villa ahead in the 53rd when he shot over the bar with just Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to beat. A minute later, Arsenal’s Fredrik Ljungberg hit the bar with a 20m left-foot strike.

At The Valley, Darren Bent set up the first Charlton goal for South Africa striker Shaun Bartlett and headed the second. The victory meant Charlton manager Alan Curbishley ended 2005 on a high after eight losses in nine games.

Australia midfielder Tim Cahill scored Everton’s late winner at Sunderland to help the Toffees’ struggle to avoid relegation and lift it up to 16th. The result left Sunderland last with six points from 19 games.

Portsmouth eased its relegation worries by edging fellow struggler Fulham 1-0 at home, Gary O’Neil scoring the only goal of the game four minutes before halftime. Starting the day five points from the safety zone, Pompey now has 17 — two fewer than 17th-place West Brom.

The day’s surprise result was Blackburn’s 3-0 victory at fifth-place Wigan. Morten Pedersen, Steven Reid and Craig Bellamy got the goals.

Although Middlesbrough is going strong in the UEFA Cup, it is sliding toward the relegation zone after being held 0-0 at home by Manchester City. With 21 points, Boro has only four more than next-to-last Portsmouth. – Sapa-AP

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