The Premiership title race could yet be set for a dramatic climax after an eventful weekend.
League leaders Manchester United salvaged a point against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium, thanks to a late equaliser from Wayne Rooney. Cristiano Ronaldo had given United an early lead with his 37th goal of the season, before Middlesbrough’s Brazilian striker Alfonso Alves scored twice – his first goals for the club since his big money move from Heerenveen.
Already missing key centre-half Nemanja Vidic through injury, United lost Rio Ferdinand to injury in the 69th minute. Although United have ample strength in depth in the defensive positions, they will need to adjust quickly to the enforced decimation of the Vidic-Ferdinand partnership which has provided a solid foundation for their success so far this season.
Chelsea recorded a comfortable 2-0 win at Manchester City, thanks to an own goal by Richard Dunne and a second half strike by Salomon Kalou. The Blues have hit form in the league in recent weeks and have now closed the gap on Manchester United to a mere three points.
Despite Arsene Wenger’s stubborn refusal to concede the title, the championship seems beyond the grasp of Arsenal this season. The Gunners dropped another two points on Saturday against an under-strength Liverpool side, Nicholas Bendtner cancelling out Peter Crouch’s goal in a 1-1 draw. Wenger chose to field second-string players Justin Hoyte and Gilberto Silva, in a clear indication that he sees the forthcoming European Cup clash as a priority by some distance.
Everton beat relegated Derby 1-0 thanks to a Leon Osman goal, keeping the pressure on Liverpool for fourth place. At the wrong end of the table, the relegation picture is looking increasingly clear. Fulham were thrashed 3-1 at home by Sunderland, and Bolton were crushed 4-0 by Aston Villa at Villa Park, with England midfielder Gareth Barry scoring twice for the home side.
Four points now separate Bolton in 18th from Birmingham in 17th, and on current form there is little reason to suppose that either Bolton or Roy Hodgson’s hapless Fulham side will climb out of the relegation zone.
Important home wins for Newcastle (3-0 against Reading) and Wigan (2-0 against Birmingham) have pulled both clubs further away from danger. Blackburn and Tottenham shared the spoils in an inconsequential 1-1 draw at Ewood Park.
By Houman Barekat