Chelsea win, drama at the bottom
While Chelsea eased some of the pressure on manager Carlo Ancelotti with a victory, Blackpool appear to be accelerating towards the bottom of the Premier League table after they were beaten 3-1 by relegation rivals Wigan at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.
Defeat leaves Blackpool in 18th position with only five games remaining, while Wigan leapfrog their hosts to move out of the drop zone. Goals from Hugo Rodallega and Charles N'Zogbia and an own goal from Neal Eardley secured three crucial points for the Latics, who record only their third away win of the season.
Rodallega was the beneficiary of a third-minute slip by Blackpool defender Craig Cathcart, wasting no time in sliding the ball between the legs of returning goalkeeper Matt Gilks. By half-time it was 2-0, with N'Zogbia breezing past the Tangerines' statuesque defence to find the net on the stroke of the interval.
Blackpool have now won just one of their last 13 games, and that run only looks like continuing after Mohamed Diame twisted and turned to inspire Wigan's third, which was eventually credited as an own goal for Eardley, rendering DJ Campbell's late strike mere consolation.
West Ham remain in relegation danger after they lost 2-1 to Aston Villa at Upton Park. Defeat means the Hammers slump to 19th, while Villa move up to that golden 40-point marker in their battle to beat the drop.
The pre-game team news appeared to be positive for Villa as Emile Heskey made a first start since January, while the name of Scott Parker was missing from the West Ham team sheet. However, within two minutes the Villans were behind, with Robbie Keane swivelling sharply inside the box to send a left-footed shot past Brad Friedel.
Fortunately for Villa, Mark Noble allowed himself to become consumed with over-confidence, and his attempts to dribble out of defence ended in inevitably embarrassing fashion as Ashley Young robbed him, allowing Darren Bent to head the visitors level. Houllier's men were now in the ascendancy, with Rob Green forced into two outstanding saves from Bent and Young, and they finally found a winner in the 90th minute thanks to Gabriel Agbonlahor.
At The Hawthorns, under-fire striker Fernando Torres found himself relegated to the bench as Chelsea came from behind to beat West Brom 3-1. Defeat would have left Carlo Ancelotti's men in real danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League next season, but they were rescued by a disastrous goalkeeping display by Scott Carson.
The Blues were just beginning to control the game when Peter Odemwingie struck on 17 minutes for West Brom, delightfully lofting the ball over Petr Cech for his 12th Premier League goal of the season, a Baggies record. However, the lead lasted a mere five minutes as Carson gave Chelsea a helping hand back into the match, allowing Didier Drogba to level in front of the watching Torres.
Carson then spilled the big Ivorian's 26th-minute effort directly into the path of Salomon Kalou as Chelsea turned the tables for a 2-1 scoreline. Kalou was enjoying the space afforded to him by West Brom's hugely hospitable defence, and a simple cut-back to the edge of the area on the stroke of half-time saw Frank Lampard net Chelsea's third. Torres emerged in the second half, finding the net late on, but his strike was disallowed for offside.
Sunderland face the prospect of being dragged right into the middle of the relegation battle after they suffered a 2-0 loss at Birmingham. The result leaves the Black Cats hovering five points above the bottom three, having failed to win any of their last nine games.
Blues went into the match unchanged, meaning Kevin Phillips faced his former club, but it was Sebastian Larsson who marked his 100th Premier League appearance with a scrappy opener. Craig Gardner then notched his ninth goal of the season to boost Birmingham's hopes of retaining their Premier League status next season.
Everton closed the gap on sixth-placed Liverpool to a single point and sent Blackburn spiralling even closer to the drop zone with a 2-0 victory at Goodison Park. Rovers have now gone ten games without a win and they go into the final five weeks of the season with just a two-point buffer from the relegation places.
Former Barcelona youngster Ruben Rochina made a first Premier League start for Rovers, but it was the Toffees who spent most of the game on the front foot, taking the lead through Leon Osman's deflected shot ten minutes into the second half. Leighton Baines then made it 2-0 from the spot after Phil Jones fouled Seamus Coleman inside the area.