Manchester United won 2-1 at Bolton on Saturday to cut Chelsea’s Premier League lead to seven points after the champions were held 0-0 by relegation-threatened Birmingham.
Substitute Ruud van Nistelrooy scored the winner at the Reebok Stadium after United had trailed to Kevin Davies’s 25th-minute goal and Louis Saha equalised.
Van Nistelrooy, on the bench for five of the past six games, went on in the second half and took a pass from Saha to score with 11 minutes to go. It was his 150th goal for the club.
”When he comes on, we know what he’s going to do,” United manager Alex Ferguson said of Van Nistelrooy. ”He’s the best finisher in the game. And next week he will be fresh, Arsenal, a massive game now.
”It’s no good making predictions because seven points is still a massive gap and it can still only be thrown away by Chelsea. But it’s getting closer and we are playing well and that’s the important issue.”
Birmingham conceded 12 goals and scored none in their previous three games, but gave Chelsea few chances at St Andrews until the closing stages. Chelsea’s Hernan Crespo and Ricardo Carvalho missed close-range opportunities in the final minute as Birmingham held on for a point.
Chelsea had the ball in the net three times, but each was disallowed for offside. Manager Jose Mourinho said one of them, by Asier Del Horno, should have counted because the player flagged for offside, Ricardo Carvalho, was not interfering with play.
”The result is a fair one,” Mourinho said. ”Birmingham fought for 90 minutes. Every one of their players was very committed and they deserved a point. But I want to win every game. I’m not happy with the performance. I’m not happy with the result. I cannot say I’m not concerned.
”But we scored a clear goal. There is no doubt about that. But Del Horno’s goal should have stood.”
The result means Chelsea have 79 points from 32 games, and Manchester United have 72. Third-place Liverpool were at West Bromwich Albion later on Saturday.
Thierry Henry scored twice as Arsenal followed up their midweek Champions League victory over Italian leaders Juventus with a 5-0 win over Aston Villa.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie and Vassiriki Diaby also scored at Highbury to help the Gunners move to within two points of fourth-place north London neighbours Tottenham.
”We’ve had a good result today and the results of our opponents have gone our way, so mathematically it’s in our hands,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. ”We have started a momentum and let’s take care of the way we play the game, and the rest will come.”
Five days before the return with Juventus, the Gunners lost Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas with an injured foot, which Wenger said was quite swollen.
Spurs slipped 3-1 at Newcastle. Lee Bowyer, Shola Ameobi and Alan Shearer scored for the Magpies to end a run of four straight losses.
The bottom three teams avoided defeat, with last-place Sunderland, almost certain to be relegated, gaining a 2-2 draw at Everton. The Toffees twice led — through Leon Osman and James McFadden — but Sunderland hit back through Jonathan Stead’s first goal in 32 starts and Rory Delap.
Portsmouth won 3-1 at Fulham, their third straight victory, lifting them above Birmingham into 18th place. Gary O’Neil scored twice and Lomana Lualua once.
On Sunday, it’s: Manchester City vs Middlesbrough, and West Ham vs Charlton. Blackburn host Wigan on Monday.
A week after guaranteeing promotion to the top division for the first time in their 135-year history, Reading secured the League Championship title with a 5-0 victory over Derby.
Second-place Sheffield United were held 1-1 by Stoke. — Sapa-AP