Wayne Rooney scored twice as Manchester United remained five points clear at the top of the Premier League after a 3-1 win at home to Aston Villa on Tuesday.
For much of the night it looked as if United might extend their lead but second-placed Arsenal came from behind to beat Everton 2-1 at the Emirates and so stay in touch with Sir Alex Ferguson’s unbeaten side.
England striker Rooney’s first minute goal — his first in open play in the Premier League in 11 months — gave the hosts the ideal start at Old Trafford.
Rooney controlled United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar’s long goalkick downfield before unleashing a 20-yard dipping shot past Brad Friedel.
The former Everton forward then doubled United’s lead on the stroke of halftime when he turned in Nani’s cross from close range.
“Goals always help strikers but Wayne has got a great appetite to play,” Ferguson told Sky Sports. “Everyone should remember that — we know that.
“It’s an inbred thing in the boy, he’s got a great appetite to work and fight and he gets his rewards eventually.
“The aim for us is to keep the momentum going and hopefully that gets us where we want to be.”
Favourites step up
Darren Bent, a £24-million transfer window capture from Sunderland, gave Villa hope with a 58th minute goal before United defender Nemanja Vidic blasted an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net five minutes later.
Louis Saha fired Everton into a 24th minute lead against Arsenal, although the French striker appeared to be several yards offside.
But Arsenal grabbed a 70th minute equaliser through Andrey Arshavin.
The Gunners completed their revival 15 minutes from time when unmarked defender Laurent Koscielny headed in a Robin van Persie corner.
English champions Chelsea, still 10 points behind United, came from a goal down to win 4-2 at Sunderland.
Blues captain John Terry made it 3-2 on the hour mark before striker Nicolas Anelka, whose place has come under threat follwing Chelsea’s £50-million British record signing of former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres on Monday, put the result beyond doubt in the 90th minute.
It took Sunderland a matter of minutes to score the first of four first-half goals, with Phil Bardsley’s swerving shot deceiving Petr Cech.
City still have a chance
But Chelsea equalised through Frank Lampard’s 15th minute penalty after Ahmed Elmohamady was ruled to have climbed over Ashley Cole in the box.
Eight minutes later Chelsea were in front when Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon made up Salomon Kalou’s mind by misguidedly rushing off his line.
However, Sunderland were level in the 26th minute when, after Elmohamady was fouled by John Obi Mikel, former Manchester United midfielder Kieran Richardson saw his 20-yard freekick go under the Chelsea wall.
In Tuesday’s other Premier League match, Wigan remained in the relegation zone after a 2-2 draw away to West Brom.
Nigeria forward Peter Odemwingie gave the Baggies a fifth minute lead but Charles N’Zogbia’s deflected freekick drew visitors Wigan level in the 20th minute.
Another freekick, from Ben Watson, gave Wigan the lead two minutes before halftime but West Brom grabbed a point through Marc-Antoine Fortune’s late header.
Manchester City can leapfrog Arsenal into second place if they win away to Birmingham on Wednesday when Liverpool, fresh from signing Andy Carroll for a club record £35-million, face Stoke. — Sapa-AFP