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May, 8, 2011

United on brink, Arsenal slump at Stoke

Manchester United are within a solitary point of what appears certain to be a record 19th league title after a fully deserved 2-1 win over Chelsea at Old Trafford.

• Premier League gallery Photo Gallery
Ferguson delighted to surpass Reds
Ancelotti: United deserve it
• Saturday's Premier League action

The victory, secured thanks to goals from Javier Hernandez and Nemanja Vidic, gives Sir Alex Ferguson's side a six-point lead with two games remaining in the Premier League season. Only a minor miracle will now prevent them from securing a fourth league title in five seasons, and surpassing the overall record they currently hold with Liverpool.

Any hopes Chelsea had of taking top spot with a victory were undone as early as 36 seconds into the game when David Luiz failed to cut out a pass from Park Ji-Sung and Javier Hernandez, clinical as ever, beat Petr Cech for the 19th goal of his debut season in England.

United's lead was doubled after 23 minutes when Ryan Giggs, now surely destined to collect his 12th title-winner's medal, found Nemanja Vidic with a cross and the United captain converted with a glancing header.

Chelsea performed horribly in the first half, with Luiz and John Obi Mikel both substituted at half-time, but somehow pulled a goal back on 68 minutes when Frank Lampard poked home a volley following Branislav Ivanovic's knockdown.

But Chelsea were unable to claw their way back into the game and instead the best chances fell to United, with Hernandez unmarked when missing a header, as they closed out the all-important win. United have won 52 of an available 54 points at Old Trafford this season and will win the title if they secure a draw away at Blackburn prior to the FA Cup final on Saturday.

That result finally extinguished Arsenal's tiny hopes of winning the title, and a 3-1 defeat to FA Cup semi-finalists Stoke ensured The Gunners failed to take three points for the seventh time in nine games as their season continued to peter out to a disappointing end. Having beaten Manchester United in their previous match, they now remain five points ahead of Manchester City in third place with two games remaining after their latest disappointment.

Arsenal were behind when Andrei Arshavin committed a foul near the corner spot, allowing Jermaine Pennant to whip in a free-kick that found Kenwyne Jones unmarked and cushioned off the striker's chest and in. Five minutes before half-time, Pennant, who joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old in 1999, capitalised on another defensive lapse to fire in a shot that deflected off Johan Djourou and over Wojciech Szczesny.

Aaron Ramsey's return to the scene of his horrific leg injury suffered last season lasted only 45 minutes as he was substituted at half-time, while tempers flared in the second half as Alex Song and Robert Huth and Jack Wilshere and Pennant became involved in confrontations.

Robin van Persie scored with nine minutes remaining when his shot crept under Asmir Begovic, his record extending to scoring in eight away games in succession, but Stoke replied within 60 seconds. Both Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou were guilty of failing to clear and Jonathan Walters made it 3-1.

Wolves escaped the relegation zone with just two games remaining of the Premier League season courtesy of a 3-1 win in their derby match against West Bromwich Albion.

Mick McCarthy's side started the day in 19th place but move up to 17th, one point ahead of both Blackpool and Birmingham, thanks to a win inspired by two goals from Scotland international Steven Fletcher, who has now scored four in four games.

Wolves benefitted from some sloppy West Brom defending from set-plays as they opened up a two-goal lead in the first half at Molineux. After 15 minutes, Adlene Guedioura turned a corner into the path of Fletcher, who finished from close range.

The players combined again after 28 minutes, this time Fletcher heading back across goal from a corner and the unmarked Guedioura doubling Wolves' lead. Fletcher continued his fine recent form when claiming a second from Kevin Foley's assist after half-time as he capitalised on an error by Abdoulaye Meite, but Guedioura conceded a penalty after 54 minutes, allowing Peter Odemwingie to score his 15th goal of the season, and fifth in five games.

Jerome Thomas then hit the bar as West Brom threatened to mount a comeback, but the Baggies, already safe from relegation, were defeated by their local rivals in a big result for Wolves.

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