Ryan Giggs’s 100th league goal saw Manchester United on the way to a 4-1 win against bottom-of-the-table Derby County to keep up the pressure on Premier League leaders Arsenal on Saturday.
Victory at Old Trafford, where Carlos Tevez scored either side of halftime, left second-placed United a point behind the Gunners, who travel to struggling Middlesbrough on Sunday.
Chelsea remained third, two points adrift of United, after a 2-0 win against Sunderland, despite being without star striker Didier Drogba.
Liverpool lost in the league for the first time this season, 3-1 away to Reading but they remain in fourth place.
Portsmouth maintained their impressive form with a sixth successive away win as they beat Aston Villa 3-1, a victory that saw them move up into fifth spot.
Ayegbeni Yakubu’s hat-trick helped Everton move level on points with Villa after a 3-0 win at home to Fulham, who haven’t won away in 25 league matches.
Meanwhile, Newcastle came from behind to beat Birmingham 2-1 with Habib Baye scoring a last-minute winner.
Giggs, in front of the Old Trafford faithful who’ve cheered him on for the last 16 years, put United in front five minutes before halftime when he followed up a Cristiano Ronaldo shot parried by Derby keeper Stephen Bywater.
It was the 34-year-old Welsh winger’s 100th goal in 519 league appearances.
”He’s a great character, a great person and a fantastic servant to us all,” United manager Alex Ferguson said of Giggs.
United, on the stroke of half-time went 2-0 up with Portugal winger Ronaldo again involved. His free-kick wasn’t cleared and Argentina striker Tevez struck from inside the box.
Tevez then put the result beyond doubt on the hour mark.
Steve Howard scored a consolation goal for Derby, their first away in the league this season before Ronaldo made it 4-1 from the penalty spot.
Andriy Shevchenko helped Chelsea make light of Drogba’s absence, after his fellow striker was ruled out earlier on Saturday following a knee operation, by giving the Blues a 23rd minute lead at Stamford Bridge when he headed in from Salomon Kalou’s cross.
Frank Lampard put the result beyond doubt with a 75th minute penalty after Danny Higginbotham’s foul on Alex. Sunderland then saw Liam Miller sent off late on for retaliation.
Reading took the lead against Liverpool in the 17th minute when Jamie Carragher fouled Brynjar Gunnarsson on the edge of the box.
Referee Andre Marriner awarded a penalty, to Liverpool’s anger, with Stephen Hunt scoring from the spot.
Liverpool though were level barely 10 minutes later when Steven Gerrard, their captain, burst into the box and shot past Marcus Hahnemann.
But the Royals regained the lead on the hour mark when Kevin Doyle flicked-on Nicky Shorey’s free-kick.
And seven minutes later, after Gerrard had hit the bar, James Harper made it 3-1 after rounding Reina Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez defended his decision to take Gerrard off with 20 minutes to go ahead of next week’s must-win Champions League game against Marseille.
”I wanted to rest my key players because I did not feel we were going to get back in the game at 3-1,” Benitez said.
Reading manager Steve Coppell, celebrating his team’s first win over one of the ‘Big Four’ since promotion to the Premier League, added: ”It’s not fair to say we won a game but it was on a dodgy penalty.”
Sulley Muntari’s spectacular double sealed Portsmouth’s first win at Villa Park for 37 years after Craig Gardner’s own goal.
Gareth Barry’s penalty for Villa couldn’t prevent Pompey going 11 games unbeaten in the league.
”He’s got a great left-foot and they were two fantastic finishes,” Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp said of Muntari’s goals.
At Goodison Park, Nigeria’s Yakubu opened the scoring in the 51st minute after Australia midfielder Tim Cahill’s volley was blocked by Fulham keeper Antti Niemi.
He then headed in from a flick-on by Phil Jagielka and completed his treble in the 79th minute.
”What we have wanted from him is what he has given his other clubs, Portsmouth and Middlesbrough. He has scored goals — and he has an excellent record at that,” Everton manager David Moyes said of Yakubu.
At St James’s, Birmingham went ahead when Cameron Jerome exploited defensive weakness before Obafemi Martins, fouled by Mathew Sadler in the box, equalised with a 37th minute penalty.
Senegal defender Beye completed the comeback in the 90th minute when he headed in an Emre free-kick. – Sapa-AFP