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Persecuted Barca ready for response


United go clear at top

Manchester United moved three points clear at the top of the Premier League after battling past Stoke City with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

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It wasn't comfortable for United - they were pegged back to 1-1 at one point - but they carved out a win that earns them breathing space ahead of Arsenal's clash with Manchester City on Wednesday.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men took the lead on 26 minutes when Javier Hernandez, in for the injured Wayne Rooney, conjured an ingenious flick into the net after meeting Nani's cross. But that goal didn't prompt an onslaught, and Stoke stunned the home side five minutes into the second period as Whitehead nodded in from ten yards.

Parity was short-lived - Nani turned from provider to scorer on 62 minutes, restoring United's lead with a left-footed howitzer from 20 yards. That goal appeared to drain the fight from Stoke's legs, allowing United to close out the win with ease.

Fulham climbed out of the relegation zone by clinching a convincing 3-0 win over West Brom at Craven Cottage. Mark Hughes' men move up to 14th with their second triumph in ten games, while the Baggies are languishing in 16th after a fifth straight defeat.

WBA entered the match with a makeshift defence, but it was their first-choice goalkeeper Scott Carson who was culpable for the opener. Seconds before half-time, Simon Davies thundered a speculative shot from 25 yards that Carson let slip between his fingers and into the goal.

Question marks continued to linger above Carson following Fulham's second goal, scored by Clint Dempsey from Davies' corner, after he couldn't claw the ball away despite getting his hand to it. The game was over with 25 minutes remaining, Brede Hangeland soaring in the area to bury the visitors' hopes.

An 89th-minute strike from Scott Dann earned Birmingham City a 2-1 win over Blackpool at Bloomfield Road - and moved them out of the bottom three and above arch-rivals Aston Villa in the table.

Blues raced into a deserved lead after 24 minutes when Alexander Hleb intercepted Stephen Crainey's pass before slipping the ball under Richard Kingson.

Alex McLeish's men were made to pay for their wastefulness when, seconds after they had hit the post after a period of pressure, Blackpool pulled level through DJ Campbell's low volley on 68 minutes. But the visitors were not to be denied, with Dann striking at the death with class.


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