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Feb 10, 2013

United go 12 clear, Villa boosted

Manchester United are odds-on favourites to win the Premier League title after opening up a 12-point lead with victory over Everton on Sunday.

• Saturday's Premier League review
• Team of the Week

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the table, Aston Villa edged out of the relegation zone with a nerve-racking win over West Ham United.

Ryan Giggs continued his record of having scored in every Premier League season as he propelled Manchester United to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Everton at Old Trafford.

Giggs, 39, also became the second oldest goalscorer in Premier League history (behind Teddy Sheringham) with his 13th minute opener, as he curled a pinpoint right-footed shot in off the near post after great work from Robin van Persie had wrong-footed the Toffees defence.

Van Persie then doubled United's advantage moments before half-time, showing impeccable movement to break the offside trap and latch onto Rafael's through-ball, before easily rounding Tim Howard.

The Dutchman's right-footed finish was somewhat unconvincing, but the backtracking Johnny Heitinga - who only started after illness hit Sylvain Distin, and had been embarrassed by the United striker in the build-up to the first goal - was unable to divert the ball round the post despite meeting it on the line.

Those two chances apart, Everton actually had the greater volume of openings for much of the match - but United's defenders consistently stepped up to clear corners and block potshots, as Leon Osman missed about the only efforts that evaded opponents.

Perhaps mindful of the forthcoming Champions League meeting with Real Madrid in midweek - the Spanish club's manager, Jose Mourinho, watched the match from the stands - United appeared to take the sting out of the contest in the second half, with forays forward proving more measured as Everton only fleetingly showed the ability to break into the final third themselves.

United still enjoyed the best of the openings - Tim Howard and Nikica Jelavic combining to keep out Jonny Evans from a corner, moments before the American goalkeeper turned over a wicked first-time volley from Tom Cleverley - but a third goal did not appear.

Everton, meanwhile, saw David de Gea deny substitute Jelavic with ten minutes remaining in what was perhaps their best chance, as any hopes of a late rally were snuffed out by the organised home side.

Earlier, Aston Villa clambered out of the relegation zone with a tense, hard-fought 2-1 victory over West Ham on Sunday.

A coolly-taken penalty from Christian Benteke with just over 15 minutes remaining put Paul Lambert's side ahead, before Charles N'Zogbia found the net with a curling 25-yard free-kick moments later to seemingly seal the points.

Ashley Westwood then contrived to head Joe Cole's cross into his own net with three minutes remaining, but Villa held on to take the win.

The result takes Villa to 17th in the table with 24 points, one better than Reading - who drop into the bottom three alongside Wigan and QPR.

In truth, a drab game at Villa Park was only enlivened by the two late set-pieces - as a litany of errors from both sides made viewing difficult. Andreas Weimann's miss after barely six minutes perhaps summed up much of the contest - the forward contriving to shoot wide from six yards after Jussi Jaaskelainen had spilled a Benteke strike and given the German half of the goal to aim at.

Villa desperately needed the win, however, and with 15 minutes remaining they were handed a gilt-edged chance to claim it after Mark Noble brought down N'Zogbia in the box. The responsibility to capitalise fell to Benteke, and the Belgian made no mistake in side-footing home as Jaaskelainen went the other way.

Four minutes later the points were effectively wrapped up. This time the Hammers were perhaps unfortunate to give away the free-kick - James Tomkins adjudged to have brought down Darren Bent - but N'Zogbia showed no mercy, curling his effort narrowly over the wall as Jaaskelainen watched helplessly as it passed him and disrupted the net.

West Ham peppered the Villa goal in the closing stages - but only managed to break the deadlock after Westwood lofted Cole's inswinging cross up and over the unfortunate Guzan.

That left the visitors with three minutes (and injury time) to get an equaliser - but two amazing saves from Guzan right at the death ensured Villa held on for a desperately-needed victory.

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