Rampant United move level with City
A 5-0 victory over ten-man Wigan enabled Manchester United to draw level on points with Premier League leaders Manchester City on Boxing Day, as Roberto Mancini's men were held to a 0-0 draw against West Brom on a day that saw Fulham strike a major blow to Chelsea's title ambitions.
At Old Trafford, Dimitar Berbatov's hat-trick and goals from Park Ji-sung and Antonio Valencia saw a makeshift Manchester United side cruise to a five-goal win over Wigan - who had striker Conor Sammon sent off in the first half.
Sir Alex Ferguson named an unusual line-up - with Michael Carrick at centre-back - but nevertheless it only took eight minutes for the home side to take the lead. A great run from Patrice Evra saw him make his way to the byline, and his cutback missed two players to find Park - who made no mistake in side-footing into the far corner.
Wigan tried to get back into the game with little success, before their task was made much harder after a controversial decision from referee Phil Dowd. Sammon backed into Michael Carrick with a seemingly innocuous challenge, but Dowd took exception to the perceived use of the elbow and showed the shocked striker a straight red card.
Minutes later United doubled their advantage, as Berbatov controlled the ball and spun in the box - before volleying past Ali Al Habsi's outstretched arms. The Bulgarian then conclusively ended the game as a contest shortly before the hour mark, turning on Antonio Valencia's through ball with one sublime touch before poking a blistering effort past Al Habsi with trademark class.
Valencia then deservedly got himself on the scoresheet with a similar two-touch finish. Picking the ball up on the edge of the box, the right-back for the day moved the ball out of his feet before rifling a low strike across Al Habsi and into the far corner. Minutes later it was 5-0, with Berbatov stroking home in languid fashion from the penalty spot after Park had been brought down - seemingly just outside the box - by Antolin Alcaraz.
That meant Manchester City were unable to retain their two-point advantage at the top of the table, as they were frustrated by a resilient West Brom in a stalemate at The Hawthorns.
City had the majority of the chances, with Mario Balotelli seeing a goal disallowed for offside, but they were ultimately unable to break the deadlock in a result that means they now only remain top of the league on goal difference.
City dominated the early proceedings, with David Silva guilty of wasting a notable opportunity as James Milner also headed a good chance wide. Balotelli then had the ball in the back of the net - before replays showed an offside decision was the correct call.
The second half saw a flurry of activity, with Balotelli crashing an effort against the bar before West Brom went right up the other end and saw Shane Long head wide from eight yards out when it almost looked harder to miss the target.
Sergio Aguero was then guilty of missing another great chance shortly after the hour-mark as City continued to press - but despite some hairy late moments the Baggies were able to hang on for a goalless draw to give Roy Hodgson a welcome point.
Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw by Blackburn as they continued their difficulties at Anfield this season, with stand-in goalkeeper Mark Bunn making an incredible late save to deny the home side victory.
Blackburn even went into half-time with the lead thanks to Charlie Adam's unfortunate own goal, but Maxi Rodriguez was on hand to head his side back on level terms shortly after the restart to at least ensure Kenny Dalglish's side did not suffer a humiliating loss against Steve Kean's relegation-threatened outfit.
The first half saw Liverpool dominate proceedings without being able to find the net - a regular problem for Dalglish this season. Luis Suarez was once again at the heart of proceedings as he wasted chances, although Andy Carroll - making a rare start - was arguably guilty of the biggest mistake as he fired straight at Mark Bunn from just four yards out.
Blackburn had their own spells of good pressure in the midst of that, however, and it was not quite the surprise it would otherwise have been when they went ahead. The visitors won a corner with the first 45 minutes almost over, and from there Morten Gamst Pederson's corner was flicked into the roof of the net by a stretching Charlie Adam, who was pressured by Mauro Formica.
That was a sour way to end the first half, but Liverpool came out after the break with renewed fervour and were soon back on level terms. A corner was played short before being crossed into the box, where it broke free to Martin Skrtel. The defender lofted a well-measured volley across to the far post, where Maxi found the space to rise and nod home.
As the minutes passed Dalglish threw on a fit-again Steven Gerrard in a desperate attempt to engineer a winner, and the captain immediately became a key driving force for the side. But it was Stewart Downing who often received the ball from Gerrard in dangerous positions, and the winger was wasteful - much to the frustration of the Anfield faithful.
Liverpool left two of their best chances for the final minute of injury time, however, although luck was not to be on their side. First Bunn made an incredible save to again deny Carroll from mere yards out, before 17-year-old defender Adam Henley cleared off the line to prevent Daniel Agger's goal-bound effort going in.
In the day's early kick-off, Chelsea were also frustrated in a 1-1 draw with Fulham at Stamford Bridge as Clint Dempsey cancelled out Juan Mata's strike shortly after half-time.
Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas had acknowledged before the game that his side would still be in the Premier League title race if they took six points from the next two games, but they failed that challenge at the first hurdle. Mata's strike shortly after the break appeared to have put the side on their way to victory, but Dempsey equalised less than ten minutes later as the home side were unable to find a goal in the remaining 30 minutes.
Villas-Boas gave Fernando Torres a rare start in place of Didier Drogba, while David Luiz passed a late fitness test to ease his problems in the centre of defence. And the Blues started the livelier of the two sides, with Torres and Sturridge both being denied from good opportunities - although only after Orlando Sa headed over a glorious chance for the visitors.
The rest of the half was a drab affair, however, with the second half desperately needing an injection of excitement. And it came just minutes after play resumed, thanks to the left boot of Mata. Ashley Cole swung over a cross at Torres, who brought the ball down but was unable to keep control. The ball ran loose in the box, but Mata was in the right place at the right time to finally plant a shot past David Stockdale.
Barely ten minutes later Fulham were on terms, however, as Clint Dempsey tapped home from barely a yard out as Luiz tried to recover. It was Bryan Ruiz who created the equaliser, making Cole look foolish with a clever turn before drilling in a low ball to his American strike partner.
Two goals in as many minutes enabled Newcastle to end their recent slump with a 2-0 victory over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium, as Hatem Ben Arfa and Demba Ba put their opponents to the sword in lethal fashion.
The first half offered little in the way of quality football, as both sides were guilty of mistimed tackles and wasteful attacking play, with a real scrap between Gary Cahill and Ba - that saw the former handed a black eye and the latter ride some strong challenges - about the only highlight.
The second half was similarly drab, with Leon Best guilty of wasting perhaps the game's best chance as Ivan Klasnic occasionally threatened at the other end. But Newcastle then scored a deserved opener thanks to a quality piece of technical play - Ben Arfa volleying past Jussi Jaaskelainen to break the deadlock.
Just minutes later it was 2-0, and this time Bolton only had themselves to blame. Paul Robinson gave the ball away cheaply, and Gabriel Obertan burst into the box before sliding across a ball that Ba ran onto - crashing a strike in off the underside of the bar as Bolton's defenders scrambled to get back.
Elsewhere, Everton and Sunderland played out a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light, in a game that saw the visitors benefit from a kind refereeing decision.
Substitute Jack Colback opened the scoring after 25 minutes as he saw his shot deflect wildly off Sylvain Distin and over goalkeeper Tim Howard into the net, after good counter-attacking play from Stephane Sessegnon.
But Leighton Baines equalised with a penalty in the second half, won in questionable circumstances. Leon Osman dribbled his way into the box, but appeared to simply kick the ground rather than the ball as he went to shoot.
Referee Howard Webb believed Osman had been fouled, however, and Baines had no intention of looking the gift horse in the mouth as he finished emphatically from 12 yards - as the two sides went on to play out a
In the day's late game, Marc Wilson came agonisingly close to grabbing a winner for Stoke as they played out a 0-0 draw with midlands rivals Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium.
With Peter Crouch and Darren Bent unable to make their returns from illness and injury respectively, both sides lacked attacking quality in the first half, although Villa did hit the woodwork through Emile Heskey, who was subsequently forced off at half-time.
There were chances at either end as the game opened up somewhat after the interval, and Wilson almost broke the deadlock in the 69th minute when his header - from Matthew Etherington's corner - struck the underside of the bar before being bundled away by Gabriel Agbonlahor.