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Apr, 18, 2009

Stoke on the brink of survival

A crucial 75th-minute Liam Lawrence strike gave Stoke City three points at the Britannia Stadium, as they beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in an otherwise lacklustre match.

Danny Higginbotham's cross from the right was neatly flicked on by James Beattie, and Lawrence side-stepped Gael Givet before tucking the ball inside goalkeeper Paul Robinson's near post.

The Potters have lost only three games at home this season, and again showed resilience to grind out a win that lifts them to 11th spot in the league. Rovers drop to 17th and are just three points off the relegation zone.

Aston Villa managed to dodge an unwanted record of five consecutive losses at home, but could only draw 1-1 with West Ham United at Villa Park. A close-range goal from Emile Heskey in the 10th minute, after some neat work from Gareth Barry and then James Milner on the right, separated the teams in this claret-and-blue clash until late in the game.

Villa looked to be heading for victory, but in the 87th minute, Diego Tristan got his head to a Kieron Dyer shot, and the ball found its way into Brad Friedel's top corner.

The draw means Martin O'Neill's side will now retain little hope of snatching the fourth Champions League spot from Arsenal, who they trail by seven points, despite the fact that the north London side still have to play the Premier League's top three teams.

A late Nwankwo Kanu strike snatched the points for Portsmouth as they beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 at Fratton Park with an 84th-minute goal.

Jussi Jaaskelainen put in a man-of-the-match performance in goal for Wanderers, and looked to have denied Portsmouth a win despite the home side laying siege to the visitors' goal for sustained periods. Glen Johnson, in particular, playing in midfield for Pompey, gave the Wanderers' defence a torrid time, breaking through the back line repeatedly, but Jaaskelainen proved his equal on each occasion.

But the home side's pressure finally told when a swinging cross from Sean Davis on the right was bundled home by Kanu, who had just come on as a substitue, to lift Pompey seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Djibril Cisse scored a priceless goal for relegation-threatened Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, as the Black Cats beat Hull City 1-0.

The Frenchman rose at the far post to head home an Andy Reid cross just before half-time, and was promptly booked for an over-exuberant celebration, but that will do little to dampen his delight at scoring only his second goal of 2009. The win means Sunderland leapfrog their opponents, who now find themselves teetering on the brink of the drop zone.

At the Riverside, Middlesbrough had the best of the opening 45 minutes against Fulham but failed to score as they aimed to move out of the bottom three. Stewart Downing twice went close with a couple of early strikes before Andy Johnson hit the inside of the post for Fulham against the run of play.

With Arsenal and Manchester United up next for Gareth Southgate's relegation threatened side the future looks bleak.

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