Top English trio start New Year in triumph

It was a case of as you were at the head of the English Premier League as the top three sides all enjoyed a winning start to 2008.

Leaders Arsenal remained two points in front with a 2-0 New Year’s Day victory over West Ham at the Emirates Stadium.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, reigning champions Manchester United stayed hot on Arsenal’s heels after a 1-0 success at home to Birmingham City.

Chelsea cemented their grip on third position by coming from behind to win 2-1 at Craven Cottage as Roy Hodgson’s first match as manager of relegation candidates Fulham ended in a west London derby defeat.

Liverpool, who headed into the New Year in fourth place, are at home to Wigan on Wednesday.

Portsmouth, who in September defeated Reading in an 11-goal spectacular, won 2-0 in a match where the Royals played most of the game with 10 men.

Everton beat Middlesbrough by the same scoreline, and in the day’s late kick-off, Aston Villa beat Tottenham 2-1.

Arsenal were ahead as early as the second minute when Eduardo scored his third goal in two league matches.

And the Gunners were 2-0 up in the 18th minute when Gael Clichy’s long pass released Emmanuel Adebayor, who found a way between Hammers central defenders Matthew Upson and Anton Ferdinand before shooting past Robert Green.

”It was quite comfortable in the end because we did the job early and controlled the game,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Carlos Tevez broke the deadlock at Old Trafford in the 25th minute when he made no mistake after being played in by Cristiano Ronaldo’s cheeky back heel.

But worryingly for United, Tevez had to be helped into the dressing room at full-time with an ankle problem after being on the receiving end of a strong first-half challenge.

”He is doubtful for Saturday now [when United play Villa in the FA Cup],” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Reflecting on the match, the Scot was unhappy with United’s display and the lack of support from the Old Trafford faithful.

”We were very careless in our finishing and when that happens you leave the door open.”

Ferguson added: ”It was a funny game because the atmosphere in the ground wasn’t very good either. I thought it was dead. We needed them [the crowd] to lift us a little bit. We didn’t get that today [Tuesday].”

Fulham gave Hodgson, a replacement for the sacked Lawrie Sanchez, an early boost through Danny Murphy’s 10th-minute penalty after Moritz Volz was seemingly clipped in the box by Joe Cole.

But the Cottagers have had a problem hanging on to a lead this term and Chelsea were level in the 54th minute when Alex’s flick-on was headed in by Salomon Kalou.

Minutes later Chelsea went ahead when Germany’s Michael Ballack, the captain of an injury-hit side, scored from the penalty spot after his shirt had been tugged by Clint Dempsey.

Fulham stayed second-bottom with just Derby County below them.

”I thought the attitude and desire of the players was very good,” said an upbeat Hodgson.

However, he added: ”If there are players available in the transfer window that we think would make us better then we would be interested.”

Chelsea boss Avram Grant berated his team’s display in the opening 45 minutes. ”We needed to do what was necessary to win the game because in the first-half we didn’t play well.”

Reading were a man down in the third minute at the Madejski Stadium after Ibrahima Sonko was red-carded for a foul in the box on Portsmouth striker Benjani Mwaruwari.

But from the resulting penalty Pompey, who beat Reading 7-4 at Fratton Park, saw Croatia midfielder Niko Kranjcar hit the post.

However, they went ahead in the ninth minute when Sol Campbell scored from close range after Reading goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann dropped Sulley Muntari’s free-kick and Pompey’s Papa Bouba Diop headed on.

John Utaka put the match beyond Reading in the 66th minute.

Everton struck twice towards the end of the second half at the Riverside, Andrew Johnson netting in the 67th minute before Scotland’s James McFadden doubled the lead five minutes later.

At Villa Park, the hosts took the lead through Olof Mellberg four minutes before half-time when the Sweden defender headed in an Ashley Young free-kick.

England striker Jermain Defoe equalised with a hooked finish in the 79th minute but Villa, again exposing Spurs’s problems at set-pieces, responded when Martin Laursen, left free at a corner, headed home five minutes from full-time.

Newcastle will try to ease the pressure on manager Sam Allardyce at home to Manchester City on Wednesday when Derby are away to Bolton.

Derby’s fellow relegation candidates Sunderland travel to Blackburn Rovers. — Sapa-AFP

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Julian Guyer
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