A late header from Carlos Tevez at Ewood Park earned Manchester United an absolutely crucial point in the race for the title.
Blackburn Rovers took the lead through Roque Santa Cruz in the 21st minute of a frenetic encounter, and a defeat for United would have left Chelsea’s title bid in their own hands with three games to go. Argentine striker Tevez, restored to the starting line-up after being left out in the previous match, grabbed an 86th-minute equaliser and the match finished 1-1.
The point means United stay three points ahead of Chelsea and can afford to slip up in next week’s top-of-the-table clash at Stamford Bridge, as their vastly superior goal difference means they would finish on top in the event of both sides finishing equal on points. The result was typical of United’s resilience this season – despite underperforming in recent games against Middlesbrough, Arsenal and now Blackburn, United have secured five points from these matches and are holding their nerve at the top of the table.
Arsenal bounced back from last week’s disappointment to record a comfortable 2-0 win over struggling Reading, with goals from Adebayor and Gilberto. The Gunners, who will finish the season empty-handed again, could still catch Chelsea for a second place finish.
Meanwhile Everton’s recent loss of form has led to renewed interest in the race for a UEFA Cup spot, which had looked like a foregone conclusion until about three weeks ago. Aston Villa routed city rivals Birmingham City 5-1 to move to within three points of the Toffees. There were two goals each for England forward Ashley Young and Norwegian striker John Carew, with Agbonlahor adding a fifth.
Manchester City also remain in contention after an impressive 3-1 win over Portsmouth, with goals from Darius Vassell, Martin Petrov and man-of-the-match Benjani. Even if City – currently 8th – do not achieve a European place, theirs has been a very good season by any sensible criteria, and it would not be altogether surprising if Sven-Goran Eriksson chooses to move on to one of the big Italian clubs rumoured to be interested in him, in view of the remarks made City owner Thaksin Shinawatra’s about the Swede’s possible dismissal at the end of the season.
At the wrong end of the table, nearly every team involved in the relegation scrap was defeated this weekend. A brace from Michael Owen helped Newcastle to a 2-0 win over bitter rivals Sunderland, while Fulham were beaten 2-0 at home by Liverpool. The Reds had rested a number of key players ahead of this week’s European Cup match, but two goalkeeping errors from veteran America goalkeeper Kasey Keller gifted goals to Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch in an otherwise even encounter. It will take something very special to rescue Fulham now.
Wigan secured a creditable point at home to Tottenham, with Emile Heskey’s second goal in as many games cancelling out Dimitar Berbatov’s opener. Bolton secured three important points with a 1-0 defeat of Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. The result means Birmingham City drop into the relegation places. Gareth Southgate’s Boro side are not entirely out of danger themselves – they are one of five clubs who could yet be sucked in to the relegation places.
By Houman Barekat