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Jan 16, 2011

Three derby draws, United held

Manchester United held on for 16 minutes with ten men to maintain their undefeated record and return to the top of the Premier League with a 0-0 draw at Tottenham.

• ESPNsoccernet's Team of the Week
• Saturday's Premier League review
• Premier League Gallery Photo Gallery
• Jolly: Deja-vu for Dalglish in derby

The Red Devils lost right-back Rafael da Silva in the game's dying embers, somewhat controversially after a seemingly unintentional foul, but Tottenham could not capitalise on their numerical advantage. The result means United move level with neighbours City at the top with two games in hand, while Spurs stay fifth behind Chelsea.

Wayne Rooney, given a start alongside Dimitar Berbatov, kept Heurelho Gomes honest with a stinging shot on the half-hour, while the major thing missing from Tottenham's game was the usually reliable service of Gareth Bale. The Wales international over-hit several first-half attempts to cross, although he did get one right on the stroke of the interval that saw Van der Vaart glance into the side-netting.

The first goal of the match appeared to be coming, and Rooney came as close as anybody to delivering it after the restart when his 20-yard shot arrowed towards the corner, only for Gomes to once again display what an excellent shot-stopper he is.

Then came the big talking point of the match as the balance of the contest swung significantly in Spurs' favour, with Rafael dismissed for two bookable offences. The second yellow, in fairness, looked harsh for the United right-back, but he had been guilty of several misplaced challenges throughout the afternoon. Spurs went for the killer blow, and they so nearly found it as Van der Vaart bent one inches over with Edwin van der Sar completely helpless, but United held on for the draw.

Kenny Dalglish's last Merseyside derby back in 1991 finished in a thrilling goal-laden draw, and his Anfield homecoming some 20 years later produced another memorable battle as Liverpool and Everton shared a 2-2 scoreline on Sunday.

For 45 minutes the Dalglish factor, in addition to the renaissance of Fernando Torres, appeared to be swaying the derby in Liverpool's favour. However, Everton showed their famed fighting spirit to hit back after the break and it was the Reds who were left feeling grateful for Dirk Kuyt's equaliser 20 minutes from time.

Liverpool got the reward for their attacking intentions on the half-hour. Dirk Kuyt twice forced fine saves from Tim Howard at the back post, before the ball found Raul Meireles on the edge of the box, allowing the Portuguese to take one touch before slamming his first Liverpool goal into the top corner.

Unfortunately for Dalglish, for all his side's attacking endeavour they still have serious issues at the back, and they were once again highlighted just 35 seconds into the second half as Everton equalised. Martin Skrtel, so often susceptible to the high ball, completely took his eye off an inswinging corner to allow Distin to head home unchallenged for 1-1.

Skrtel had been joined by Sotirios Kyrgiakos at the break due to an injury to Daniel Agger, and the pair looked like they were being introduced for the first time as Everton quickly found a second goal on 52 minutes, albeit in controversial circumstances. Victor Anichebe's fair challenge left Kelly down with a head injury, but the referee allowed Leon Osman to play on, dividing Agger and Kyrgiakos to allow Beckford to beat a livid Pepe Reina.

The pressure was now coming almost exclusively from Everton, but a lifeline came Liverpool's way with 20 minutes remaining as Maxi Rodriguez went down under the challenge of Howard. With Steven Gerrard absent, Kuyt stepped up and sent Howard the wrong way to draw the famous roar from the Kop.

Aston Villa and Birmingham City remain firmly in relegation danger after playing out a 1-1 draw at St Andrew's.

James Collins' fortuitous equaliser, which cancelled out Roger Johnson's opener, did much to relieve the pressure on Villa boss Gerard Houllier, as his side climbed to 17th in the table

Villa had enough chances to be out of sight during a first half in which they hit the crossbar on three occasions, with Gabriel Agbonlahor and John Carew guilty of missing glorious chances. Birmingham grew into the match as the interval approached, but they lacked a cutting edge upfront as Matt Derbyshire struggled to make any inroads in his battle with Richard Dunne and James Collins.

Just as they had in the midweek Carling Cup clash at West Ham, Birmingham came haring out of the traps at the start of the second half - and they were rewarded when Johnson volleyed home after Craig Gardner's mishit free-kick ricocheted into his path.

Villa's equaliser came from an equally unlikely source as James Collins pounced on a half-cleared Marc Albrighton cross to thrash the ball into the net with the aid of a deflection of Liam Ridgewell, formerly of Villa.

Elsewhere, Asamoah Gyan struck during injury time to earn Sunderland a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United at the Stadium of Light. Alan Pardew's men looked on course for a league double over their rivals when Kevin Nolan gave them a lead - but their dreams were shattered in a cruel finale.

Joey Barton was the star of a fractured first half that that was slowed down by the frequent blasts of the referee's whistle. One day after Barton had declared himself the best English midfielder in the country, he set about justifying that claim with a raft of devastating crosses that created havoc in the Sunderland defence. Fabricio Coloccini missed the most glaring chance after meeting Barton's delivery, Kieran Richardson clearing his shot off the line.

Predictably, Barton's right foot played a significant part in the Magpies' opener - his hanging delivery was nodded into the path of Nolan, who scored against Sunderland for the fourth time this season. Falling behind did not precipitate an onslaught from the Wearsiders - they struggled to put anything together in the final third, with little cohesion in their attacking play.

Nonetheless, they managed to snatch a scarcely-merited draw in injury time when Gyan bludgeoned the ball home from close range after Steve Harper couldn't hold Phil Bardsley's shot.

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