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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Man United edge closer to title, Liverpool thrash Birmingham

Maxi Rodriguez scored a hat-trick against Birmingham. - Photo b AFP
Maxi Rodriguez scored a hat-trick against Birmingham. - Photo b AFP

LONDON: Manchester United maintained their six-point Premier League lead with four matches remaining after they beat Everton 1-0 with a late header by Mexico striker Javier Hernandez on Saturday.
Chelsea remained in the hunt by beating West Ham United 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, with Fernando Torres finally getting off the mark in his 14th appearance for the champions.
United, who visit Schalke 04 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday, have 73 points after the striker nicknamed Chicharito, or Little Pea, ended Everton’s resistance six minutes from time at Old Trafford.
Chelsea, who left West Ham bottom of the league, are second on 67, with Arsenal, who are away to Bolton Wanderers on Sunday, on 64.
Manchester City, who visit Blackburn Rovers on Monday, are fourth on 56 with fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur on 55 after they could only draw 2-2 at home with West Bromwich Albion.
Liverpool are only three points further back after thrashing Birmingham City 5-0 at Anfield, helped by a Maxi Rodriguez hat-trick.
Sunderland, who had taken just one point from their previous nine games, ended the dire run in emphatic style by beating Wigan Athletic 4-2 to ease their relegation worries.
Wolverhampton Wanderers against Fulham, Blackpool v Newcastle United and Aston Villa v Stoke City all finished 1-1.
Seventh-placed Everton were unbeaten in seven league games going into the match at Old Trafford but their record at the ground is dire, with their last win coming in 1992.
They were unable to end that drought on Saturday, although, well-organised and hard-working in defence, they kept United at arm’s length for much of a sweltering afternoon.
United, beaten in the FA Cup semi-finals by Manchester City last weekend and held 0-0 at Newcastle United on Tuesday, cranked up the pressure in the last 15 minutes and got their reward when Hernandez rose well to meet an Antonio Valencia cross and power in his point-blank header.
United have now won 16 and drawn one of their 17 home league games. Victories in their next two league matches would secure the title with two games to spare but they are unlikely to be easy – away to Arsenal and at home to Chelsea.
“Today’s game was tricky. Everton are very resilient and some of their defending was fantastic,” United manager Alex Ferguson told the club’s website (www.manutd.com).
“We had shots blocked near the line, some misses and the goalkeeper made two or three great saves. You say to yourself:
‘It’s going to be another late one here.’ You can just smell the history of the club and so it was to be.
“We took gambles, we took risks. We put Wayne Rooney in the middle of the pitch, we brought Ryan Giggs on, Michael Owen on.
We just kept going and I think we can be very pleased today.”
The day’s scorching heat was replaced by a thunderstorm for the evening game at Stamford Bridge and for long periods Chelsea struggled to cope with the awkward conditions and some spirited play by their lowly London rivals.
Chelsea grabbed the first goal at the end of the first half when Frank Lampard banged in a low cross from Ashley Cole.
Centre back David Luiz rattled the bar with a 25-metre pile-driver before Torres came off the bench in the 76th minute and, eight minutes later, swept in his first goal for the club he joined from Liverpool for 50 million pounds ($82.81 million).
Florent Malouda rounded things off with a goal in stoppage time.

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