Chelsea continued their march towards the Premier League title with a win in a keenly contested encounter against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.
The visitors were handed a huge boost when James Beattie got himself sent off for violent conduct after a petulant head-butt on French star William Gallas.
Eidur Gudjohnson finally made the breakthrough after Nigel Martyn produced a number of outstanding saves. England pair Joe Cole and Frank Lampard both went close before Gudjohnson pounced from close range to give the Londoners all three points.
Everton manager David Moyes, initially incensed with the decision to send Beattie off, yesterday admitted he had made a mistake:
“I believe that I should set the record straight by conceding that the dismissal was right and correct,” said Moyes.
The striker now faces disciplinary action from the club.
Manchester United kept themselves in touch at the top with a hard-fought victory over neighbours Manchester City.
The irrepressible Wayne Rooney found the net once again for his sixth goal in 8 games. An unfortunate own goal from defender Richard Dunne gift-wrapped the points for United.
Sir Alex Ferguson confessed after the game that Chelsea’s win at Everton had been a blow to their title aspirations: “It was a real kick in the teeth for us because Everton was a tough game,” said the United boss.
He added: “We’re doing nothing wrong. We’re showing championship form and all we can do is keep on winning and hope that something happens. We’re still hopeful they will slip up.”
Elsewhere Blackburn Rovers eased their relegation fears with a convincing 3-0 win over strugglers Norwich City at Ewood Park. Morten Gamst Pedersen got the first, riffling past the hapless Robert Green and Paul Dickov added a brace to give Rovers an eight-point cushion above the relegation zone.
Bolton and Middlesbrough played out a drab 0-0 at the Reebok, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink wasted the best chance of the game at the death – a miss which left ‘Boro boss Steve McLaren rueful.
“I’d have settled for a point at the start but on reflection we had three great chances,” said McClaren.
Birmingham dented Liverpool’s Champions League hopes with a 2-0 victory at St Andrews. Loan signing Walter Pandiani converted a penalty won by Reds old-boy Emile Heskey and Julian Gray notched his first goal for City since his move in the summer, after good work from home debutant Jermaine Pennant.
Aston Villa won at Fratton Park to continue Portsmouth’s slide down the league. Pompey have now taken just four points from a possible 24. Villa took the points thanks to an own goal from Arjan De Zeeuw and another fine effort from Thomas Hizlsperger.