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Dec 26, 2010

Manchester double act

Manchester United will be able to enjoy Monday's showdown between Arsenal and Chelsea after they defeated Sunderland 2-0 at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. Victory extends the Red Devils' advantage over their London rivals to five and six points respectively, and Sir Alex Ferguson's side have now won 14 of their last 15 fixtures on December 26.

• Premier League Gallery Photo Gallery
• Palmer: Spurs light the way

Ferguson always attaches great importance to the Christmas period, acknowledging the vast possibility for change in the title race as United embarked on a 10-day period in which they will play four league games. And, without the services of two of their most reliable players, the league leaders had far too much for Steve Bruce's in-form Sunderland.

Nani and Darren Fletcher both missed out due to injury and illness respectively, but that only meant that the imperious Ryan Giggs stepped back into the side, and he excelled in a sizzling United performance. The Red Devils led as early as the fifth minute, with Wayne Rooney chipping the ball over for Dimitar Berbatov to convert, and from that moment Sunderland were on damage limitation duty.

Rooney, playing like a man revived following a difficult six months, came agonisingly close to emulating Eric Cantona's famous chip against Sunderland as he beat the helpless Craig Gordon, only to see the ball drift wide of the far post. Moments later it was Anderson trying his luck, bending the ball from just inside the area, only to see his effort rebound off the woodwork.

Some of United's build-up play deserved a second goal, yet when the clincher arrived they were grateful for a significant deflection off Anton Ferdinand as Berbatov's strike completely wrong-footed Gordon in the Sunderland goal.

Manchester City remain a very present contender in the Premier League title race after they became the first top-flight team to record six away wins this season, beating Newcastle 3-1 at St James' Park. Roberto Mancini's men are just two points behind United in the table, although they have played two more games.

Mancini began the day by delivering a warning to Mario Balotelli regarding his inconsistent form, and the benched forward will certainly have learned a thing or two from Carlos Tevez as City stunned the Magpies with two goals in the first five minutes. Both strikes were largely down to Tevez, who capitalised on Tim Krul's woeful pass to set up Gareth Barry inside two minutes, before starting and finishing the second with a left-foot volley.

In fairness to Newcastle, they resisted the temptation to capitulate and carved out several chances to get back into the match, eventually halving the deficit with 18 minutes remaining through Andy Carroll. Kevin Nolan then shaved the post when attempting to level, and City punished the miss as Tevez combined with Adam Johnson for the deflected clincher.

Tottenham went back into fifth place in the Premier League despite the sending off of Jermaine Defoe to win 2-1 at Aston Villa. Defoe was given his marching orders for a flying elbow on James Collins, but only after Rafael van der Vaart continued his fine form by smashing a 23rd minute opener.

Villa failed to take advantage of the situation and a Tottenham counter attack, with great work from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, set the Dutchman up for his second to kill off the tie. Villa scored a consolation from Marc Albrighton, but it was too little too late for Gerard Houllier's men, who continued their dreadful run of Boxing Day defeats.

West Ham breathed life into their Premier League survival bid with a 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Fulham at Craven Cottage.

Fulham made a bright start and Aaron Hughes netted his first goal in six years when climbing to head home Simon Davies' cross after he had been left alone in the penalty area. However, the Cottagers failed to cash in on the extended spells of possession they enjoyed and were made to pay for a mistake by Dickson Etuhu, who turned the ball into Carlton Cole's path - enabling the Hammers' striker to prod a shot beyond Mark Schwarzer. West Ham edged in front just before the interval when Scott Parker picked out an unmarked Frederic Piquionne at the far post and he volleyed home.

Cole enjoys his days out against Fulham and he made the points safe on 73 minutes when he pounced on a long ball and flashed a shot beyond Schwarzer for his sixth goal in his last five games against the west London side. Rob Green ensured there was no chance of a Fulham revival when pulling off a remarkable save with his right hand to deny Eddie Johnson, moments after Cole had added the third.

Fulham now find themselves in the bottom three after Wigan overcame Wolves 2-1 in a proverbial six-pointer at the bottom of the table. The result sees Wigan move three points clear of the drop zone.

The Latics had only won one away league game all season, but it took just nine minutes to silence the Molineux faithful, with Hugo Rodallega using his body excellently to send a right-footed volley past Wayne Hennessey. That lead was doubled on 20 minutes as Tom Cleverley once again caught the eye on loan from Manchester United, breaking clear to slam the ball through Hennessey's legs, and that goal sealed the points despite Steve Fletcher's 87th-minute consolation.

Elsewhere, Steve Kean is still looking for his first win as Blackburn manager after they lost 2-0 at home to Stoke. Matt Etherington was guilty of a glaring miss as the teams entered the interval with the scores goalless, but Robert Huth headed his fourth of the season six minutes into the second period, before Marc Wilson completed the victory to heap pressure on Rovers' new owners.

And Bolton are temporarily up to fifth, two points behind Chelsea, thanks to a 2-0 triumph over West Brom at the Reebok Stadium. Matt Taylor's first goal in 23 outings broke the deadlock in the first half, and Johan Elmander killed the game off with four minutes remaining.

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