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Nov 28, 2012

Chelsea held as Manchester moves clear

Rafael Benitez's testing start to life at Chelsea became even tougher on Wednesday as the Blues failed to score for a second successive game, on a night when both Manchester clubs won. Tottenham defeated Liverpool to boost their Champions League qualification hopes as Arsenal and Everton drew, and elsewhere there were wins for Swansea and Stoke.

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Benitez said the only way he would overcome his icy welcome at Stamford Bridge would be to start delivering results, and a second consecutive goalless draw was not what he had in mind as Chelsea were held 0-0 by west London rivals Fulham. Fernando Torres again failed to fire for the Blues, who are now seven points off top spot.

The former Liverpool boss took a giant gamble prior to kick-off, benching star of the season Juan Mata, and after 16 minutes Benitez was made to suffer another show of appreciation from the Chelsea fans for axed manager Roberto Di Matteo.

Torres had arguably the best chance of the first period but scuffed his shot as the Spaniard continued to look out of form up front.

An even better opportunity fell the way of John Arne Riise early in the second half, breaking in behind the Chelsea defence, but the Fulham man made a mess of things with Dimitar Berbatov free inside the penalty area. Moments later Riise did much better with a further opening, but Petr Cech produced a wonder save to earn Benitez a much-jeered a point.

Manchester United maintained their status as league leaders with a comfortable 1-0 victory over West Ham at Old Trafford, courtesy of a rapid strike from Robin van Persie.

Prior to the game Ruud van Nistelrooy tipped Van Persie to become a United great, and the former Arsenal man took 33 seconds to show why. Spinning past his marker Van Persie gave United an instant lead, albeit with a huge deflection off James Collins.

United's passing was slick but they failed to kill the game off despite a host of chances in the second period, and significantly their goal difference remains inferior to neighbours City.

Manchester City remain one point adrift of United after they came away from a tricky trip to Wigan Athletic with a 2-0 win at the DW Stadium. Mario Balotelli and James Milner were on the scoresheet for Roberto Mancini's side.

City had to wait until deep into the second half for their breakthrough, and Wigan keeper Ali Al-Habsi once again made a costly error as he spilled a shot straight to Balotelli, who converted at the second attempt. Milner then scored a cracking second from range three minutes later to ensure City's unbeaten record stayed intact for a 14th game.

Arsenal drew for the second match running as their bid for a Champions League qualifying spot limped along with a 1-1 draw at Everton. The Gunners failed to build on Theo Walcott's first-minute strike, with Marouane Fellaini equalising to leave Arsenal seventh, five points off fourth place with Everton a point better off.

It took 53 seconds for Walcott to hand the Gunners a flying start on Merseyside, beating Tim Howard with a deflected effort for what was the fastest goal in the Premier League this season. That record lasted a matter of minutes before Van Persie bettered it at Old Trafford.

Everton found a response on the half-hour through Fellaini, who stroked the ball home with his left foot from 20 yards after Bacary Sagna gave the ball straight to the Belgium international. Both sides had chances to win it, with Everton denied a strong penalty claim against Mikel Arteta, but a draw was a fair result.

Tottenham Hotspur leapfrogged their north London rivals into fifth after a 2-1 victory over Liverpool at White Hart Lane, which ended the Reds' eight-match unbeaten streak in the league. Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale found the net as Andre Villas-Boas got the better of Brendan Rodgers.

Bale tormented the Liverpool defence to create Spurs' opener after seven minutes, flying past two challenges before crossing for Lennon, who capitalised on the dormant Stewart Downing to knock home.

Liverpool should have levelled immediately but Jordan Henderson failed to capitalise on Hugo Lloris' error, and the midfielder then contributed to Spurs' second as he inadvertently diverted Bale's free-kick past Pepe Reina.

The visitors wasted plenty of chances to get back into the game, with Jose Enrique particularly guilty on more than one occasion, but they were gifted a reply in the 72nd minute when Steven Gerrard's header was cleared off the line by Lennon - but he only succeeded in kicking the ball into Bale's face and it ricocheted into the net.

West Bromwich Albion started the day third but dropped to fourth after they were beaten 3-1 by Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. The Baggies' campaign to date has been built on an impressive home record, but their away form is not so good, having now won two of seven fixtures on their travels thanks to goals from Michu and Wayne Routledge (2).

The home side were two ahead inside 11 minutes as Michu opened the scoring from Pablo Hernandez's pass, before Routledge latched onto another Hernandez assist to double the lead. By half-time it was three as Routledge notched his second from Ben Davies' low cross, although the Baggies did pull one back on the stroke of the interval through Romelu Lukaku.

Newcastle United may feel a Champions League spot is beyond them after they were beaten 2-1 by a late Stoke City rally at the Britannia. The Magpies missed out on their first away win of the campaign as Papiss Cisse's strike was cancelled out by Jonathan Walters, with Cameron Jerome netting the winner.

Stoke were first to threaten when a mix-up in the Newcastle defence saw Mike Williamson deflect the ball onto the frame of his own goal. However, it was Cisse who netted the opener from a rebound two minutes into the second period for Alan Pardew's men.

Stoke looked a beaten side but they pegged Newcastle back nine minutes from time through Walters, before Jerome won it four minutes later.

And Southampton stay in the relegation zone after they drew 1-1 with Norwich City at St Mary's. Rickie Lambert scored for the Saints but a goalkeeping howler saw them pegged back by the Canaries.

A breakthrough arrived in the 32nd minute for the home side, as Lambert prodded home from close range after a couple of ricochets inside the Norwich area. However, they could not hold on until half-time due to keeper Paulo Gazzaniga, who allowed a soft Robert Snodgrass free-kick to find its way into the back of the net.

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