A Wayne Rooney-inspired late show enabled Manchester United finally to overcome Reading and hold on to pole position in the English Premier League title battle on Saturday.
But there was precious little inspiration on show at St James’ Park, where Kevin Keegan’s second stint as Newcastle manager got under way with a subdued performance that ended in a goalless draw with Bolton.
”Bolton were very organised and we just were not good enough to break them down,” Keegan admitted. ”But it’s great to be back and there will be better days ahead.”
United had looked as if they would be forced to settle for a draw at the Madejski stadium. But with 13 minutes left, Rooney found some space inside the six-yard box and finished off a chip from Carlos Tevez with a superb flick.
The England forward then set up Cristiano Ronaldo for the Portuguese winger’s 23rd goal of the season in the final minute.
The win ensured United remain above Arsenal — 3-0 winners at relegation-threatened Fulham — on goal difference, and Sir Alex Ferguson believes the three hard-won points could prove crucial at the end of the season.
”You do start to worry as the game goes on and on whether you are going to get the goal, and it has taken a lovely flick from Wayne to open them up,” said the Scot. ”Reading really do make you work and I think it is a very important result for us.”
Elsewhere, third-placed Chelsea could count themselves fortunate to come away from Birmingham with all the points. Birmingham had the better of their clash with Chelsea for long periods but were left with nothing when Peruvian forward Claudio Pizarro headed in his first goal for the visitors since the opening day of the season, in the 79th minute.
Two first-half headers from Togo forward Emmanuel Adebayor and a late strike by midfielder Tomas Rosicky on his return from injury allowed Arsenal to stroll to victory over relegation-threatened London rivals Fulham.
Adebayor has now scored 15 Premier League goals this season and Saturday’s performance will have added to Gunners boss Arsene Wenger’s relief that he has retained the striker’s services for the next month because of Togo’s failure to qualify for the African Nations Cup.
Wenger was delighted to see his side bounce back to their best after dropping points at home to Birmingham last weekend. ”The way we came out today after last weekend’s disappointing result gave a strong message about how much this team wants it,” the Frenchman said.
Keegan was given a predictably rapturous reception at the start of Newcastle’s match, but that was as excited as the crowd was to get all match as Bolton produced an obdurate display to frustrate their hosts.
Newcastle had several penalty claims turned down, but that was as close as they got to scoring and Bolton might have claimed all three points but for Shay Given’s fine 90th-minute save from Lloyd Samuel.
Blackburn’s three-match winning run came to an end when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Middlesbrough. David Wheater headed in a Stewart Downing free kick in the 13th minute to give Boro the lead, but Matt Derbyshire equalised with quarter of an hour left to salvage a point for the home side.
Benjani Mwaruwari scored a hat-trick as Portsmouth came from behind to beat bottom side Derby 3-1, drawing a line under a run of seven home matches without a win. Lewis Nyatanga had given Derby the lead after three minutes.
Tottenham’s steady climb up the table under new boss Juande Ramos continued with a 2-0 win over Sunderland that left Roy Keane’s side mired in the relegation zone.
Aaron Lennon’s toe-poked shot had given the home side the lead and, as Sunderland pressed for an equaliser, substitute Robbie Keane made sure of all three points by firing in his 100th goal for the White Hart Lane outfit. — Sapa-AFP