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Apr 17, 2013

City close gap as Hammers hold United

Manchester United twice came from behind to earn a valuable point in pursuit of the Premier League title at West Ham on Wednesday, although their lead at the top was cut to 13 points by Manchester City - who have a game in hand - after the champions beat Wigan. Meanwhile, in the race for Champions League football, Chelsea climbed to third with a derby win at Fulham.

Manchester United's advantage has technically been cut to 10 points - assuming City win their extra game - following a pulsating 2-2 draw at West Ham, which saw Antonio Valencia and Robin van Persie cancel out strikes from Ricardo Vaz Te and Mohamed Diame. The point means United need another six to seal a 20th title, and they can still break Chelsea's record Premier League points tally of 95 if they win their remaining matches.

Having thrived in midfield in United's last outing at Stoke, Wayne Rooney reverted back to his more familiar forward role as Phil Jones slotted into the engine room. The England man was later subbed after an anonymous performance, although he was not alone as several United players failed to show up.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men got off to a sluggish start at Upton Park and were deservedly behind in the 16th minute. Matt Jarvis caught Rio Ferdinand on his heels as he hit the byline, and the back-post cross was nodded down by Andy Carroll for Vaz Te to convert from close range.

United failed to register a shot on target in the opening half-hour yet they equalised in the 31st minute when Shinji Kagawa hit the byline, rolling across to supply Valencia with the simple tap-in.

West Ham remained an attacking threat, Diame lashing the wrong side of the near post with a ferocious effort, while Jones wasted a glorious opening for United a minute into the second period.

Carroll was a thorn in United's side all evening and almost scored a stunning 25-yard dipping volley that brushed the side-netting, but it was Diame who registered the game's third goal with a moment of individual brilliance. Turning sharply on the right corner of the area, Diame drove a sublime curling shot with his left foot into the far corner.

Rooney almost found a second equaliser for United when Gary O'Neil cleared off the line at a corner, while Jussi Jaaskelainen reacted sharply to tip over a Van Persie header. He could do nothing to stop the equaliser though, as Van Persie rifled into the roof of the net with 13 minutes remaining after Kagawa had hit the woodwork.

Manchester City can do nothing but hope for a miracle in their Premier League title defence, but they did close the gap to their neighbours and strike a psychological blow to FA Cup final rivals Wigan with a 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium. Carlos Tevez netted for the champions, who will meet Wigan again at Wembley on May 11.

Both teams made little effort to hide anything from one another as they played teams resembling something close to their best XIs, with David Silva still not fit for City. Roberto Martinez had labelled Wednesday's game more important than the FA Cup final, with Wigan three points adrift of safety, and concern will grow for the Latics after their 17th loss of the season.

Aleksandar Kolarov was first to threaten for City, whistling a free-kick narrowly wide in the seventh minute, but Wigan were more than competitive, twice wasting good chances through Arouna Kone and Franco Di Santo. There was more of the same after half-time as Joleon Lescott cleared off the line from Shaun Maloney, before Paul Scharner hit the bar with eight minutes left. It proved a vital moment as City went straight down the other end, Tevez turning away from two defenders to hammer home his eighth goal in nine games.

In the night's other kick-off, Chelsea moved above Arsenal into third place with a 3-0 win against Fulham at Craven Cottage. A David Luiz wonder goal and a brace from John Terry lifted the Blues a point ahead of the Gunners - with a game in hand - and three clear of Tottenham who sit fifth.

Predictably, Rafael Benitez tinkered with his side following their Wembley loss to Manchester City, with Terry, Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres all restored to the starting XI. However, it was Fulham who got the better start as they piled early pressure on the Chelsea back four.

Chelsea weathered the storm and after half an hour produced a moment of sheer brilliance as Luiz strode forward, unleashing a 35-yard rocket that flew past Mark Schwarzer into the top corner.

His central defensive partner Terry then took centre stage with a rare double for the Blues, handing them a 2-0 advantage before the break when he headed into the bottom corner from Juan Mata's cross. Terry's second was a poacher's effort as he got the final touch on Torres' goalbound effort with 19 minutes remaining, completing a fine evening for Benitez's men.

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