United extend lead over Chelsea

Manchester United extended their lead at the top of the English Premiership to four points on Boxing Day as champions Chelsea, their nearest challengers, suffered a rare slip up at home.

United cruised to a 3-1 victory over Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford while Chelsea were held to a 2-2 draw by Reading at Stamford Bridge.

Cristiano Ronaldo came off the substitutes’ bench to score twice and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the other as United ran out convincing winners.

Wigan managed to frustrate United for 45 minutes but the introduction of Ronaldo at the break made the difference.

First he headed home from Paul Scholes’s corner and then just three minutes later he scored from the rebound after Chris Kirkland had initially saved his penalty, awarded for a foul on Park Ji-Sung.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted Ronaldo had made the difference.

“I had a feeling he would change the game,” Ferguson said. “We needed a quick response to what happened in the first half and Cristiano is in such great form, it was an obvious move.

“He lit up the crowd and got us two goals, which is just what we were looking for.”

Chelsea lost ground on the leaders after a real struggle against Reading.

Didier Drogba twice put Chelsea ahead but Leroy Lita and an own goal from Michael Essien gave Reading a share of the spoils and left Chelsea four points off the pace.

Jose Mourinho said the draw was probably a fair result.

“We did enough to win because we scored two goals and could have scored more - I don’t think I can complain about the players.

“For example, the game at Wigan was easy but we made it hard for ourselves. Yes, I had reason to be unhappy with them then.
But today, no, because Reading made it difficult for us.

“When the opponents do well and create problems, you can’t complain, only praise the opposition.”

Liverpool relinquished third spot as they were beaten 1-0 at Blackburn Rovers, where Benni McCarthy scored the vital goal.

The visiting side dominated the match and should have been well ahead at half-time but for some timid finishing, from Peter Crouch in particular.

The Reds continued to create chances but Blackburn hustled and bustled Liverpool and took their only real chance of the match when Morten Gamst Pedersen ran on to Tugay’s pass and squared for McCarthy to score just after half-time.

A late goal from Robin van Persie gave Arsenal a 2-1 victory at bottom side Watford and lifted them into third while Bolton Wanderers moved up to fourth after they came from behind to beat Newcastle United 2-1.

Portsmouth also leapfrogged Liverpool into fifth with a 2-1 win at West Ham United.

Manchester City earned a rare away win with a 1-0 success at Sheffield United while Middlesbrough clinched a crucial point in their survival battle thanks to a goalless draw at Everton.

And Tottenham Hotspur returned to winning ways as they beat Aston Villa 2-1.—Sapa-dpa

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