United 15 clear as City are beaten
A potentially decisive day in the Premier League saw massive results at the top and bottom of the table, as Manchester City's title defence was effectively ended by Everton and Aston Villa gave themselves some breathing room with a dramatic triumph over relegation rivals Queens Park Rangers.
Leon Osman's first-half thunderbolt and a late curler from Nikica Jelavic were the difference as ten-man Everton beat Manchester City 2-0 and effectively ended whatever lingering Premier League title hopes Roberto Mancini's side retained.
Osman beat Joe Hart with a wonderful first-time strike from 25 yards after 32 minutes to make the most of Everton's early control of the contest. City failed to reply, even after Steven Pienaar was dismissed with nearly 30 minutes remaining for a second bookable offence.
Then, deep into injury time, Hart was again beaten by Jelavic's measured strike - perhaps aided slightly by a deflection - as Everton counter-attacked, completing a victory that was celebrated wildly by the home support.
At Old Trafford Wayne Rooney's 16th goal of the season was enough to propel Manchester United 15 points clear with just nine games remaining in the Premier League title race.
Rooney's deflected first-half effort saw off a dogged Reading outfit 1-0, who worked hard but lacked the class to fashion an equaliser.
One of the most important games of the season also proved to be one of the most dramatic, as Aston Villa claimed a hugely-significant 3-2 victory over QPR thanks to Christian Benteke's late finish.
QPR, looking for a third successive win that would have brought Harry Redknapp's side within one point of Villa in 17th, led early on through Jermaine Jenas, before Gabriel Agbonlahor headed an equaliser shortly before half-time to settle some of the nerves at Villa Park.
Andreas Weimann subsequently put the Villans ahead to edge his side away from the dogfight at the bottom of the table, before Andros Townsend beat Brad Guzan to set up a tense final 20 minutes. But it was Villa who would get the winner, Benteke sending the crowd into raptures with an emphatic left-foot finish from close range.
That brief summary barely does justice to the end-to-end nature of the contest, which saw Redknapp throw five players up front for his side in the dying stages as he sought something from a game his side could barely afford to lose. It was a tactic that looked like striking gold when Townsend unleashed a long range effort with the last kick of the game, but the shot flew agonisingly wide with Guzan helpless as Villa escaped.
After going out of the Champions League - but not without a fight - to Bayern Munich on Wednesday, Arsenal greatly improved their hopes of qualifying for the lucrative competition next season with a hard-fought 2-0 away victory over Swansea.
Nacho Monreal - with his first goal for the Gunners - and Gervinho grabbed the two strikes for Arsene Wenger's side as they moved within two points of Chelsea, who play on Sunday, in the battle for fourth.
Both sides had plenty of chances in the first half, but neither side could quite manage to find the target. After being left out of the starting XI to face Bayern in midweek, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came in and managed to hit the woodwork twice for his team, while at the other end Michu was once again his side's main threat.
The second half saw more of the same, as Arsenal fared well in possession but struggled to turn that into clear-cut openings or shots on goal. That changed from perhaps the most unlikely of sources, as Monreal showed his understanding with former Malaga team-mate Santi Cazorla to latch onto a pass and hit a low drive beyond Michel Vorm from ten yards.
Swansea pushed for an equaliser but instead they saw the game killed off, Aaron Ramsey finding Gervinho unmarked in the box with little time left on the clock as the Ivory Coast international made no mistake with the finish.
Liverpool look unlikely to play in European competition next season, as they were beaten 3-1 by a Southampton side that will now be increasingly confident of avoiding relegation this season.
Goals from Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez proved the difference in an impressive Saints performance, with Philippe Coutinho getting the consolation for a defensively-suspect Reds side.
Liverpool were woeful in the first-half, and were perhaps lucky to only go in one goal in arrears. Southampton created numerous clear-cut openings but failed to take full advantage - with their two scoring efforts coming from Schneiderlin's astute header and Lambert's wickedly-deflected free-kick.
The latter trickled in after hitting Daniel Sturridge as he shied away from the ball while standing in the wall, but the striker made something approaching amends on the stroke of half-time as his turn and shot was turned away only into the path of Coutinho, who made no mistake with his finish.
Rodgers will likely have questions to ask of his defence for the Saints' third goal, which effectively killed off the contest. There appeared to be little real danger when Rodriguez picked up the ball at halfway in the second half but, after evading Lucas and Martin Skrtel without receiving so much as a cursory challenge from either, the attacker was able to unleash a strike on goal that, after Brad Jones could only parry it out, the ex-Burnley man was able to run onto and turn home.
Finally, at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke and West Brom did not trouble the scorers as they ended locked in a 0-0 draw.
Peter Crouch and Marc Wilson passed up some of the best chances Stoke created during the contest, while Romelu Lukaku saw one of the Baggies' few threatening shots on goal calmly dealt with by Asmir Begovic.