Manchester United beat Portsmouth 3-0 on Saturday to move three points clear atop the Premier League standings.
Louis Saha, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic scored at Old Trafford to delight Alex Ferguson as he prepares to celebrate his 20th anniversary as manager of the Red Devils on Monday.
Defending champions Chelsea can draw level on points by winning at Tottenham on Sunday.
Man United are also eight points ahead of third-place Bolton, who lost 1-0 at home to Wigan after Lee McCulloch’s 79th-minute winner. Portsmouth remain fourth, nine points behind the leaders.
Also on Saturday, Liverpool beat Reading 2-0 with two goals from Netherlands striker Dirk Kuyt, Everton lost 1-0 at Fulham, Watford beat Middlesbrough 2-0 for their first win of the season, Sheffield United won 1-0 at Newcastle and last-place Charlton edged Manchester City 1-0.
Saha put Man United ahead in the third minute from the penalty spot after Portsmouth defender Dejan Stepanovic had tripped Wayne Rooney. It was United’s first spot kick of the season.
Ronaldo added the second with a dipping free kick in the 10th and Vidic headed the third in the 65th. It was the Red Devils’ ninth league victory in 11 games.
”Twenty years is a great landmark for me,” Ferguson said. ”I don’t know where the years have gone. There have been some exciting times, but I have to look forward.
”That is what this club has always done and what the players have to do now. They were good today because they didn’t let it become a carnival or a circus. It was an excellent performance and there is a spirit and belief in the dressing room that tells me we will be having a real go for trophies this year.”
Kuyt took his tally to five for the season with goals in the 14th and 73rd minutes as Liverpool climbed to seventh, still 11 points behind the leaders.
”Kuyt always works, always makes great effort and shows the right level of commitment,” Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez said. ”He creates space for others and the partnership with Peter Crouch is working well.
”We have won four at home now, but we know this form must be translated into our away form. Since the defeat at Manchester United we know we have done better and scored goals. Now we are away to Birmingham and then Arsenal in the league and we know we must improve on our away form.”
Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Woodgate deflected a shot by Hameur Bouazza into his own net at Vicarage Road. Ashley Young added the second in the 59th to lift Watford out of the relegation zone.
But the victory was spoilt with Marlon King being ruled out for the rest of the season. The Watford striker was injured in the 3-0 loss to Arsenal on October 14 and needed surgery to repair a knee injury.
Darren Bent scored his seventh goal of the season in the 28th minute for Charlton at The Valley.
The Addicks stayed last because Sheffield United won at Newcastle through Danny Webber’s 68th-minute strike, lifting the Blades out of the relegation zone and leaving the Magpies next to last.
Claus Jensen’s deflected shot enabled Fulham to beat Everton 1-0 and extend the Toffees’ winless streak at Craven Cottage to 40 years. The Denmark midfielder later said he had been hit by a coin thrown from the crowd.
”I think I was struck by a coin, that was the only thing I could see nearby,” said Jensen, who clearly had a scratch underneath his left eye. ”If it was a coin and it was thrown; that is disappointing.”
Jensen, who scored the 66th-minute winner at Craven Cottage, was near the corner flag in front of the visiting supporters during the second half when he was struck.
It was the 10th time since 1966 that Everton had failed to win at Fulham. The Toffees also haven’t scored at Craven Cottage since 1967. It was the first time in 11 league games this season Everton hadn’t scored.
In Sunday’s other games, Arsenal go to West Ham and Aston Villa welcome Blackburn. — Sapa-AP