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31 Dec 2011 19:51
Manchester United wasted the chance to start the new year at the top of the Premier League when they were stunned 3-2 by strugglers Blackburn Rovers on Saturday while Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea failed to capitalise on the slip-up.
With Manchester City not playing until Sunday, United had top spot in their sights when Dimitar Berbatov scored twice to enable the champions to draw level with Blackburn before Grant Hanley’s 80th-minute winner caused a big shock at Old Trafford.
Despite not playing, City were the day’s big winners as the chasing pack dropped points, with Chelsea losing 3-1 at home to Aston Villa and Spurs conceding late to draw 1-1 at Swansea City.
Arsenal jumped above Chelsea into fourth place after Robin van Persie scored his 35th league goal of the calendar year in a 1-0 win at home to Queens Park Rangers.
United have 45 points from 19 games and are behind City on goal difference before Roberto Mancini’s side travel to Sunderland. Spurs are third with 39 points, having played one game fewer than United, while Arsenal have 36 and Chelsea 34.
“Obviously it’s a disappointment ...
We never expected that,” United manager Alex Ferguson told ESPN television.
There had been a party atmosphere at Old Trafford, where the crowd sang Happy Birthday to Ferguson, who was celebrating turning 70, but the mood soured when Berbatov grabbed Rovers defender Chris Samba’s shirt and pulled him down.
Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot and Yakubu sent keeper David de Gea the wrong way before casually slotting the ball in to give under-fire Steve Kean’s side a shock 16th-minute lead.
As if to prove it was no fluke, Yakubu extended the visitors’ lead six minutes after the break, when he shrugged off challenges by Phil Jones and temporary centre back Michael Carrick to shoot past De Gea.
Blackburn fans were still celebrating the goal when Berbatov headed in Rafael’s mis-hit shot to pull one back for the hosts and raise home fans’ hopes of a comeback.
The Bulgarian striker, who hit five goals past Blackburn in this fixture last season, found the net again just after the hour when he turned in an Antonio Valencia cross.
United, fielding a makeshift side because of a host of injuries, continued to press forward looking for the winner before a blunder by De Gea destroyed his side’s fightback.
The Spanish keeper came out to meet a Morten Gamst Pedersen corner but Hanley beat him to it and the 20-year-old defender headed in a winner that lifted Blackburn off the bottom of the table to 19th.
With news of United’s defeat known before the rest of the day’s games kicked off, the likes of Chelsea and Spurs had every incentive to make the most of it.
Spurs went ahead at Swansea with Rafael van der Vaart’s 44th minute effort before Tottenham keeper Brad Friedel failed to hold Angel Rangel’s cross to allow Scott Sinclair to equalise in the 84th minute.
Chelsea had also gone ahead in the their game at Stamford Bridge when striker Didier Drogba notched his 150th league goal for the club with a 23rd-minute penalty before Villa equalised five minutes later through Stephen Ireland.
Fernando Torres hit the bar for the west London side before Villa struck twice in three minutes through Stilian Petrov and Darren Bent to inflict a fifth defeat of the season on Chelsea.
The defeat allowed Arsenal to jump above them into the top four as top scorer Robin van Persie netted his 17th league goal of the season when he struck a low shot on the hour.
In the day’s other games, Stoke City drew 2-2 at home to Wigan Athletic, Norwich City scored in stoppage time to draw 1-1 against Fulham, and bottom side Bolton Wanderers were held by the same scoreline at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers. - Reuters
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