Park Ji-Sung kept Manchester United on course for the English Premiership title as his goal set up the leaders’ 2-0 win against Charlton on Saturday.
South Korean midfielder Park broke the deadlock in the first half at Old Trafford, and Darren Fletcher added a second in the closing minutes to secure United’s fourth successive win and maintain their six-point advantage over second-placed Chelsea.
The defending champions kept up their challenge with a 3-0 win over Middlesbrough.
Struggling Charlton made Sir Alex Ferguson’s side work hard for the win, but Park, who was only playing because of a cold that kept out Cristiano Ronaldo, broke the deadlock when he rose above Ben Thatcher to head home Patrice Evra’s cross in the 24th minute.
China captain Zheng Zhi came on as substitute to make his Charlton debut, but Fletcher put United in control when he finished well in the 82nd minute.
Ferguson said: ”There were moments when we played some good possession football, but credit to Charlton for one of the brighter performances here this season. They expressed themselves and made it difficult for us, although we had some good chances to put the game away before half-time.”
Didier Drogba ensured Chelsea kept the pressure on United as he scored twice in the win against Middlesbrough. He curled a free-kick past Mark Schwarzer on the stroke of half-time to put Chelsea in front.
Jose Mourinho’s side, who are now unbeaten in league at Stamford Bridge for three years, were further ahead in the 66th minute when Arjen Robben drove in a shot that took a wicked deflection past Schwarzer for an own goal by Abel Xavier.
Drogba got his 25th goal of the season in the 83rd minute to give Chelsea their fifth consecutive victory.
Newcastle staged a stirring fightback to claim a 2-1 win over Liverpool and give George Gillett and Tom Hicks, the Anfield club’s new American owners, a disappointing start to their reign.
Craig Bellamy, who spent four years at Newcastle before leaving in acrimonious circumstances, had given third-placed Liverpool the lead after six minutes at St James’ Park when he converted Jermaine Pennant’s pass.
But Obafemi Martins put Newcastle back on level terms in the 26th minute with a tap-in for his 12th goal of the season.
Nolberto Solano capped the revival by Glenn Roeder’s side when he slotted home a penalty in the 70th minute.
Darius Henderson’s first goal of the season gave rock-bottom Watford a glimmer of hope in their survival battle as they won 1-0 at fellow strugglers West Ham.
Anton Ferdinand was penalised for a tug on Henderson in the 12th minute and the striker converted the spot-kick himself.
Marlon Harewood wasted a glorious chance to save West Ham when he won a penalty after being brought down by Gavin Mahon in the second half, but he drove the spot-kick wide to leave Alan Curbishley’s side deep in trouble.
Curbishley revealed Australia defender Lucas Neill suffered a knee injury that could keep him out for weeks and said: ”He has twisted his knee and done his medial ligaments. We signed players that we wanted to help us in this battle, but he has gone back out now, so we will have to get on with it.”
Watford are seven points from safety, but their third win of the season will give them renewed hope of beating the drop.
Sheffield United moved a step closer to survival as they came back from a goal down to beat Tottenham 2-1 at Bramall Lane.
Jermaine Jenas got Tottenham off to the ideal start with a second-minute goal, but United responded well and Rob Hulse equalised in the 27th minute with a header from Colin Kazim-Richards’s corner before Phil Jagielka won it for the Blades with a penalty in the 62nd minute.
Steve Sidwell scored twice as Reading kept their bid for an unlikely European place on course with a 2-0 victory against Aston Villa.
Reading manager Steve Coppell has been playing down talk of his newly promoted side qualifying for the Uefa Cup, but Sidwell’s double at the Madejski Stadium clinched a fifth successive win.
Sidwell headed in the opener from Stephen Hunt’s corner after 16 minutes and consolidated sixth place for Reading with a fine finish in the 90th minute.
Everton striker Andy Johnson celebrated his birthday with the goal that sealed a 1-0 win against Blackburn at Goodison Park. Johnson (26) bagged a fine strike after 10 minutes to record his 10th goal of the season.
Portsmouth play Manchester City in Saturday’s late game, while Arsenal host Wigan and Fulham travel to Bolton on Sunday. — AFP