Everton piled the pressure on Liverpool by grinding out a 1-0 win over Reading that tightens the Toffees’ grip on fourth place in the Premier League.
The victory enabled David Moyes’s side to open up a four-point lead over their neighbours — who face a daunting trip to Chelsea on Sunday — in the battle for the final Champions League qualifying spot.
On a day when none of the top three clubs were in action, there were few of the thrills and spills that have helped make English football so popular around the world and generated proposals for matches to be played at overseas venues.
Even Everton boss David Moyes admitted his side’s win, which sent Reading down into the relegation zone, had not been a pretty affair.
”It was extremely ugly for a lot of it,” he said. ”But you have to give Reading credit for that. They are fighting to stay in the division and they made it hard for us right to the end.”
Phil Jagielka headed in his first Premier League goal just after the hour mark to condemn Reading to a seventh straight defeat.
Aston Villa moved above Liverpool into fifth place after a 4-1 win over Newcastle that saw Norwegian striker John Carew claim a second-half hat-trick.
Michael Owen had given Newcastle hope of claiming their first win since Kevin Keegan’s return to the club with a near-post header after only four minutes.
But a deflected shot from Wilfried Bouma got Villa back on level terms three minutes after the break and giant Norwegian forward Carew did the rest, following up two headers with a 90th-minute penalty.
Villa boss Martin O’Neill admitted Newcastle had deserved their half-time lead. ”We had to do something about it and the players’ response was fantastic,” said the former Celtic manager.
Keegan accused his players of allowing themselves to be bullied by the power of Carew and Marlon Harewood. ”They were doing what they wanted with us at times,” Keegan complained.
Newcastle are now winless in nine matches and Saturday’s defeat saw them slip to just six points above the drop zone.
Below them, Sunderland notched up a convincing 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Wigan.
Nigeria forward Dickson Etuhu headed in a Dean Whitehead free-kick to give Roy Keane’s side a first-half lead and Daryl Murphy added a stunning 25-yard drive with quarter of an hour left.
”Only time tell how big a win that was, but when you are playing other teams fighting at the bottom, you have to get three points,” Keane said.
”We were put under a lot pressure by Wigan but we knew if we were going to win today [Saturday] we would have to win ugly and we did that.”
Fulham’s chances of survival suffered another setback as Middlesbrough continued to pull away from the drop zone with a 1-0 win at the Riverside, courtesy of an 11th-minute strike from former Arsenal striker Jeremie Aliadiere.
Birmingham leapfrogged Reading to escape from the relegation zone thanks to a 1-1 draw at West Ham, who finished the match with ten men following Lee Bowyer’s late sending-off.
Freddie Ljungberg scored his first goal in a year to reward the Hammers for a bright start but Birmingham were soon level, James McFadden scoring from the spot after he was brought down by Anton Ferdinand.
Tottenham’s steady climb up the table under Juande Ramos continues, although the Londoners left it late at bottom side Derby before securing a 3-0 win.
Robbie Keane tapped in the rebound from Steed Malbranque’s shot to finally break the home side’s resistance in the 68th minute and Younes Kaboul and Dimitar Berbatov, with a stoppage-time penalty, completed the win.
France midfielder Lassana Diarra’s second-half strike and a superb late save by England goalkeeper David James were enough to secure all three points for Portsmouth at Bolton. — Sapa-AFP