Manchester clubs cruise, Spurs go third
Premier League leaders Manchester United began the year of 2013 by maintaining their seven-point advantage at the top of the table, exorcising a ghost from last season's failed title bid in the process. Rivals City also picked up three points at home to Stoke while Tottenham kept up their pursuit of a top-four finish, but relegation-threatened Aston Villa were denied victory at the death against Swansea.
Manchester United lost a pivotal encounter at Wigan during the ultimately doomed 2011-12 campaign, handing City the lifeline they needed to eventually claim their first Premier League crown. There was to be no repeat at the DW Stadium on New Year's Day, with United comfortable 4-0 winners thanks to braces from Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie.
Sir Alex Ferguson continued the easing-in process of Nemanja Vidic after the defender's return from injury by leaving him on the bench at kick-off, but top scorer Van Persie was restored alongside Hernandez up front as both men got on the scoresheet before half-time.
The opener came in the 35th minute after Ali Al-Habsi, who looked shaky in the Wigan goal all afternoon, parried Patrice Evra's shot to Hernandez, allowing the Mexican a simple task of converting the rebound. Van Persie then made it 2-0 at the break with a glorious strike, stepping inside Ivan Ramis to bend one in with his right foot.
Arouna Kone thought he had halved the deficit for Wigan just before the hour, only to be correctly flagged offside, and Hernandez quickly killed the game off with a predatory volley after Van Persie's free-kick hit the wall. The last say came from the Dutchman, who converted Danny Welbeck's pass after poor defending from Wigan.
Manchester City continue to battle to defend their crown after they deservedly beat Stoke 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium. James Milner and Joleon Lescott replaced Samir Nasri and Matija Nastasic for the hosts, whose goals came from Pablo Zabaleta, Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero.
Roberto Mancini's men were excellent without scoring for the first half-hour in front of their home fans, Aguero hitting a post with their best effort. The breakthrough arrived two minutes before the interval when Zabaleta followed up Milner's effort to poke past Asmir Begovic.
Another Begovic save led to City's second as Dzeko this time pounced on the crumbs of Aguero's initial shot, and it was game over in the 72nd minute when Steven N'Zonzi pulled back Silva, allowing Aguero to convert City's third from the penalty spot. The only stain on the day's action for City was the sight of Aguero limping off late on holding his hamstring.
Tottenham's push for Champions League football continues apace after they beat Reading 3-1 to chalk up a seventh win in their last nine league fixtures. Michael Dawson, Emmanuel Adebayor and Clint Dempsey got on the scoresheet as Spurs somewhat nervily came from behind to move above Chelsea into third.
Andre Villas-Boas' side were stunned in the fourth minute by Reading, who led through Pavel Pogrebnyak's close-range strike after Ian Harte's free-kick rebounded off the bar. However, the lead lasted five minutes as Dawson scored his first goal at the Lane for four years with a clever flick.
Spurs then led five minutes into the second period when Adebayor powered home a fantastic header for his second league goal of the campaign, but they needed Dawson to clear off the line as Reading pressed in vain for an equaliser. A huge slice of luck finally settled the contest, with Dempsey's strike deflecting over Adam Federeci for 3-1.
Arsenal were lucky to leave the south coast with a point as they drew 1-1 against Southampton, having gone behind to a Gaston Ramirez strike.
After failing to threaten, despite having a lot of possession, Arsenal's defence stumbled to let Ramirez hammer the home side ahead in the first half. However, the lead did not last long as a Theo Walcott free-kick was floated in and put into his own net by Saints defender Guilherme do Prado.
Far from sitting back, Southampton took the attack to their opponents and were unlucky not to get a famous win as they kept Arsenal at bay, testing goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny a number of times.
West Brom's hopes of keeping pace with the top four suffered a big setback after they were beaten 2-1 by Fulham at The Hawthorns. Steve Clarke's side are now five points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea courtesy of goals from Dimitar Berbatov and Alex Kacaniklic.
A dire first half was punctuated by the first goal of the new year in the Premier League as Ashkan Dejagah provided a piece of wizardry down the right, cutting the ball back for Berbatov to sidefoot past Ben Foster. West Brom replied four minutes after the break with almost a carbon copy, Billy Jones embarrassing Matthew Briggs to square for Romelu Lukaku.
Lukaku and Zoltan Gera then both hit a post as West Brom threatened a turnaround, but they were stunned against the run of play as Kacaniklic took advantage of a stranded Foster to win it for Fulham on the hour.
At the bottom of the table, Aston Villa picked up a valuable point in their battle against relegation, drawing 2-2 at Swansea. The result moves Villa two points clear of the bottom three, although they were only seconds away from a victory.
Paul Lambert could only shake his head in dismay as Villa made a horror start at the Liberty Stadium, falling behind inside ten minutes. The visiting defence was all over the place as Wayne Routledge ran clear to score, and Michu then hit a post as the Swans missed chance after chance.
Villa punished their hosts' profligacy on the stroke of half-time through Andreas Weimann, and they grew into the contest as neither team grasped a stranglehold of the second period. With seven minutes left Weimann won a penalty for Villa from Nathan Dyer, converted by Christian Benteke, but Danny Graham struck in injury-time to break Villa hearts.
Elsewhere, West Ham leapt above Norwich into 11th thanks to a 2-1 win at Upton Park. Strikes from Mark Noble and Joey O'Brien did the damage for the home side.
The Hammers led as early as the third minute when Winston Reid won a penalty under the challenge of Ryan Bennett, Noble sending Mark Bunn the wrong way from the spot. Norwich almost responded when a Robert Snodgrass free-kick hit the frame of the goal, but they were punished again by West Ham - albeit controversially - as O'Brien netted while Alex Tettey was grounded with a head injury. Russell Martin's 90th-minute response proved nothing more than a consolation.