Chelsea keep pressure on United

Chelsea signalled their intention to push Manchester United all the way to the wire in the Premier League title battle by cutting the champions’ lead at the top back to two points with a 2-0 win at Manchester City on Saturday.

United can re-establish a five-point advantage with five games to play by winning at Middlesbrough on Sunday while Arsenal appear to have slipped out of contention after a 1-1 draw at home to Liverpool.

But there is little sign of Chelsea making life easy for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.

Manchester City captain Richard Dunne handed the west Londoners the perfect start at Eastlands when he swept a cross from City old boy Nicolas Anelka past his own goalkeeper, Joe Hart, in the sixth minute.

Salomon Kalou then made sure of victory on the hour mark, breaking into the box and going round Hart before slotting home.

Chelsea boss Avram Grant, who has come under renewed pressure following a 2-1 Champions League defeat by Fenerbahce in midweek, welcomed the victory as the ideal tonic ahead of Tuesday’s quarterfinal second leg against the Turks.

“We love to win all the time,” he said. “We knew it would not be an easy game.
We started very well and scored, then after 20 minutes Manchester City responded and it was an exciting game. But in the second half we were better and deserved more goals.”

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger watched his side struggle to overcome a weakened Liverpool side at the Emirates Stadium but would not concede defeat in the title race.

“I said before that we would need at least five wins and a draw,” said the Frenchman. “In my brain it is not over, because it is not over mathematically.”

Liverpool left Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres on the bench as Rafael Benitez made wholesale changes to his line-up with one eye on Tuesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg with the Gunners at Anfield.

But they were still sharper than their hosts, although they were denied victory when Peter Crouch’s well-taken strike just before half-time was cancelled out by Nicklas Bendtner’s near-post header nine minutes into the second half.

Crouch, who has spent most of this season on the sidelines following the arrival of Torres, hopes his goal will push his cause for more starting opportunities, wistfully commenting: “It’s nice to remind people I’m still alive.”

At the other end of the table, it was a bleak day for Fulham and Bolton, who both lost, consolidating their status as favourites to join already relegated Derby in the Championship next season.

Aston Villa bounced back from last weekend’s thrashing at Manchester United by dishing out similar treatment to Bolton in a 4-0 win at Villa Park.

Captain Gareth Barry played the role of chief executioner with a ninth-minute header and a 20-yard shot on the hour mark, just after a Gabriel Agonblahor strike. Marlon Harewood rounded off the rout five minutes from time.

Sunderland now look safe after a 3-1 win over Fulham lifted them ten points clear of the drop zone. Danny Collins’s header on the stroke of half-time was followed by strikes from Michael Chopra and Kenwyne Jones with David Healy netting for Fulham.

Wigan boss Steve Bruce enjoyed the last laugh over his former club, Birmingham, from whom he parted company in acrimonious circumstances at the end of last year.

Two goals from Ryan Taylor secured a 2-0 win that leaves Birmingham as the most vulnerable club outside the bottom three, four points clear of third-from-bottom Bolton.

Elsewhere, Newcastle’s revival continued to gather pace with a 3-0 defeat of Reading making it three wins on the spin for Kevin Keegan’s Magpies.

Nigerian striker Obafemi Martins opened the scoring in the 18th minute, Michael Owen added the second two minutes before the interval and Mark Viduka claimed the third just before the hour.

Honours were shared between Blackburn and Tottenham at Ewood Park where Morten Gamst Pedersen finished off David Bentley’s cross to cancel out Dimitar Berbatov’s early strike for the visitors.—Sapa-AFP

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