Red Devils ref rage, easy as AVB
Manchester United's title hopes were dealt a huge blow by 10-man Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Saturday, but Chelsea are back on track as pressure eased on Andre Villas-Boas.
United's defence of their Premier League crown suffered another dent on home soil after a highly debatable penalty decision led to a 1-1 draw with Newcastle. The result sees the champions four points behind neighbours City, having played the extra game.
United had Wayne Rooney back in a strong starting XI also featuring Javier Hernandez, Ryan Giggs, Ashley Young and Nani, but the England man's most telling contribution of the first half was to aim an over-aggressive kick at Fabricio Coloccini.
Rooney then had a big hand in United's breakthrough, although the goal came laced with good fortune. Having sent his free-kick into the wall, Rooney volleyed goalwards, and when Steven Taylor sliced his clearance the ball ricocheted into the net off the unsuspecting figure of Hernandez.
United were then grateful to David De Gea, who pulled off a world-class fingertip save to deny Coloccini an equaliser, but a leveller did quickly arrive. Rio Ferdinand got a large chunk of the ball when sliding in on Hatem Ben Arfa, but the referee pointed the spot and Demba Ba duly obliged amid much rage from the home contingent.
The Red Devils poured forward for a winner, resulting in a red card for Jonas Gutierrez after a second bookable challenge, and only Tim Krul knows how he stopped Nemanja Vidic's point-blank header. There were still plenty more heroics to come though, and former Manchester United man Danny Simpson topped them all with the most staggering of goal-line clearances, before Hernandez had a late strike ruled out for offside.
Chelsea's 3-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers will partially silence Villas-Boas' detractors as the Blues moved back within five points of United. Goals from John Terry, Daniel Sturridge and Juan Mata were enough to lift the Blues within nine points of Manchester City, who face a tricky trip to Liverpool on Sunday.
There were big selections in Villas-Boas' starting line-up, with Fernando Torres once again benched, and he was joined by Frank Lampard who made way for the impressive Oriol Romeu. The out-of-form figure of Terry did remain though, and he struck at a corner after only seven minutes to set up a comfortable afternoon for the Blues.
By half-time it was 3-0 as Chelsea picked Wolves apart, first when Sturridge doubled the advantage, sweeping home after Juan Mata's good work towards the byline. Mata was then the goalscorer for the third, volleying home Ashley Cole's excellent cross.
Tottenham Hotspur's title talk maintained its momentum after they earned their ninth victory in 10 matches with a 3-1 win at West Bromwich Albion. Harry Redknapp's men stay third, now six points off top spot and two behind United, with a game in hand on the champions.
Spurs had to operate without Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart, and it was from the centre of midfield that the Baggies found their opener. Youssouf Mulumbu strolled in between the two visiting centre-backs to head in from six yards, with Ledley King questionable in his defending.
Redknapp's men were back level on 25 minutes though after Nicky Shorey felled Aaron Lennon inside the box, allowing Emmanuel Adebayor to find the net at the second attempt after his penalty was saved. Jermain Defoe then won it late on with a typical Defoe goal nine minutes from time, before Adebayor made the points safe.
Arsenal remain three points outside the top four after they were forced to come from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Fulham at Emirates Stadium. The result leaves Arsene Wenger's side sixth in the table.
In front of a desperately quiet home crowd, Andrei Arshavin had an early strike correctly chalked off for offside in the first half, before Robin van Persie had an effort cleared off the line by Chris Baird in the second.
Fulham then took a shock lead when Thomas Vermaelen slid the ball into his own net following John Arne Riise's burst into the box. However, Vermaelen made amends at the other end when nodding home Theo Walcott's cross with nine minutes remaining.
At the bottom of the table, Blackburn Rovers' owners may be feeling like they acted in haste over offering Steve Kean improved contract terms after Rovers were beaten 3-1 by Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium. Defeat means Rovers have now won just one of 13 league games this season, taking seven points as their collapse towards the Championship continues.
Stoke will be feeling much better after they avoided a fourth straight league defeat, taking the lead just before the half-hour through Rory Delap's glancing header at a free-kick. The clincher came in fortuitous circumstances when Glenn Whelan's drive was deflected over Paul Robinson, but Stoke were well worth their win and Peter Crouch sealed matters 15 minutes from time before Ruben Rochina's classy consolation.
Rovers are now bottom after Wigan Athletic beat Sunderland 2-1 at the Stadium of Light. Wigan struck in injury-time to move within two points of safety.
Ali Al-Habsi was at fault for the opener inside 10 minutes, spilling a tame Nicklas Bendtner shot to allow Sebastian Larsson to net with the second rebound. However, Larsson was then incensed when a soft penalty was given for a foul on Victor Moses - who appeared to fall over inside the area, allowing Jordi Gomez to equalise from 12 yards.
The game looked to be heading for a draw, but Franco Di Santo won it two minutes into injury-time for Wigan's second victory of the campaign.
Bolton Wanderers complete the bottom three after their Reebok Stadium nightmare continued in a 2-0 defeat to Everton. Owen Coyle's side have now lost six of seven home games this season and are two points short of 17th.
Things started terribly for Bolton, who were reduced to 10 men inside the opening 20 minutes after a reckless lunge by David Wheater. A poor touch led to Wheater's downfall as he tried to make amends with a desperate challenge on Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, scything through the Everton man's ankle.
Bilyaletdinov stayed on the pitch though and he combined wonderfully with Leon Osman and Leighton Baines to create Everton's winner after half-time, converted by Marouane Fellaini. Apostolos Vellios then made the points safe late on.
The day's other afternoon kick-off saw Norwich City come out on top of the battle of two promoted clubs against Queens Park Rangers at Carrow Road. Norwich triumphed 2-1 to move above Rangers in the table.
Russell Martin, at fault for Arsenal's winner last week, made the breakthrough in the 15th minute, lashing home at a corner after Anton Ferdinand failed to clear. Grant Holt then hit the winner 17 minutes from time after Luke Young had equalised for the away side.