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Manchester United went three points clear at the top of the English Premiership last night after defeating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 at the Reebok Stadium.

First half goals from Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes gave them a two-goal cushion, and the Red Devils managed to hang on despite a late Gary Neville own goal and persistent Bolton pressure.

Bolton manager Sam Allardyce believes his problems lie in defence. He said: “We have got to get back to keeping clean sheets. We have allowed Manchester United to sneak a couple of goals we should not have allowed them to. That has cost us not getting anything from the game.”

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson expressed his delight at his side’s victory: “It was a pulsating game where we had to grind out a result.”

Bolton lie in 13th position in an extremely cramped-looking mid-table in which only 8 points separating 5th to 16th place.

Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri had a post-match meeting with owner Roman Abramovic following his side’s 1-0 home defeat by struggling Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

A first-half goal from Bruno Cheyrou handed the Merseysiders the points. Liverpool had to play out the final 5 minutes with only 10 men following Senegalese forward El-Hadji Diouf’s dismissal for what looked an innocuous tumble with Adrian Mutu.

Boss Gerard Houllier emphasised the importance of victory: “Beating Chelsea here is a great achievement,’ he said. ‘Maybe it was an ugly win but it was a good win.”

Claudio Ranieri urged Chelsea followers not to panic despite the club’s poor run which has seen them take just 7 points out of the last 18.

He said: “We lost but we played our best. I am not happy with our results but I am not worried.”

Everton fought back to grab a late 1-1 draw with title-chasing Arsenal at Goodison Park. The Gunners opened the scoring through Nigerian forward Kanu in the first half, but were pegged back when a Francis Jeffers strike was parried by Jens Lehmann only for Canadian Tomasz Radzinski from a tight angle with 15 minutes remaining.

Boss David Moyes praised his players after the match. “We played really well and the crowd were right behind us because they could see we were doing everything to score,” he said.

Arsene Wenger believes that his players had last season’s last-minute defeat to the Toffees on their minds. “There was the psychological factor,’ said Wenger. ‘What happened last season was not out of our system.”

Newcastle United continued their fine run of recent results by beating relegation-threatened Leeds United 1-0 at St James’ Park courtesy of an early Alan Shearer strike. The Magpies are chasing the lucrative 4th place in the table which would enable them to participate in the Champions League.

Manager Sir Bobby Robson praised Shearer for his desire. “I thought Alan (Shearer) was a role model for everybody in terms of wanting to win a match when it turned out to be a scrappy game from being quite cohesive and fluent in the first half,” said Robson.

Leeds are in real trouble on and off the pitch and find themselves second-bottom of the table. Caretaker-boss Eddie Gray believes the team can climb out of trouble.

“I have confidence and belief in them but they have got to have the belief that they can get out of trouble,” said Gray.

Tottenham Hotspur recorded an emphatic 4-1 victory at home to Birmingham City last night, with midfielder Stephane Dalmat scoring twice. The London club climbed out of the bottom three with a victory which will partly lift the gloom surrounding striker Freddie Kanoute’s departure to the African Nations Cup.

The club have now accepted that the forward will join up with the Mali squad for the tournament which gets underway on January 24th. A strike from Welsh international Simon Davies followed Dalmat’s brace and the three points looked secure. Birmingham pulled one back through a Robbie Savage penalty but a Robbie Keane tap-in sealed the victory.

Manchester City’s run of games without win stretched to 13 matches after a Paolo Di Canio goal six minutes from time rescued a point for Charlton Athletic at the City of Manchester Stadium.

City went ahead through Robbie Fowler after being set up by Frenchman Nicolas Anelka after 39 minutes. Referee Phil Walton awarded a late penalty – for a handball by City’s Joey Barton – which was stopped by keeper David Seaman only for Di Canio to score from the rebound.

City boss Kevin Keegan was disappointed with the referee’s performance. He said: “He gave the penalty very quickly and in the end it has cost us two points and a victory.”

Addicks manager Alan Curbishley believed that his side didn’t deserve to lose.

“We deserved to get back into it because we had the best chances,’ said a satisfied Curbishley.

Middlesbrough got back to winning ways by beating Fulham 2-1 at the Riverside Stadium. Goals from Joseph-Desire Job and Szilard Nemeth ensured the points for Boro, while a late goal from Fulham’s Barry Hayles was too little too late.

Wolverhampton Wanderers were denied victory against Blackburn Rovers at Molineux after a late Rovers equaliser. The midlands club stay at the bottom of the table, after missing several good chances.

Manager David Jones was unable to take his place in the dugout due to a chest infection which has swept the squad, so Stuart Gray stood in.

He said: “We had our chances but didn’t work Brad Friedel enough.”

Blackburn boss Graeme Souness praised forward Dwight Yorke who snatched the late equaliser.

“Dwight is unhappy with me at the moment because he is not starting games but he showed me how much he wants to start,” said Souness.

Rovers are in 15th place, just three points off the relegation zone.

Elsewhere, Southampton and Leicester City shared the points in a 0-0 stalemate at St Mary’s Stadium last night.

For the Saints, the draw ends a run of three straight losses, and manager Gordon Strachan had mixed feelings about his team’s performance.

“Our build up play was much better than in recent games but the final ball was truly, truly poor,” he admitted.

Visiting boss Micky Adams said: “I’m pleased with a point, but we’re still fourth from bottom. The pressure id now on the other teams to see how they cope with being in the bottom three.”

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