Manchester United go eight points clear at the top

February 22nd, 2009 - 2:08 pm ICT by IANS  

ChelseaLondon, Feb 22 (DPA) Manchester United moved eight points clear at the top of the English Premier League after an edgy 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored the winner Saturday with a fine free kick in the second half but United rode their luck before clinching victory and increasing their lead over second-placed Liverpool.

Chelsea edged ahead of Aston Villa into third place after their 1-0 win at Villa Park, while Arsenal’s hopes of securing a top-four spot suffered another blow when they were held 0-0 at home by Sunderland.

At Old Trafford, United took an early lead through Wayne Rooney (23) but Blackburn equalized nine minutes later when Roque Santa Cruz took advantage of uncertainty in the United defence.

Jonny Evans had a headed goal ruled out for an apparent foul by one of his team-mates as the two sides went into half-time level at 1-1.

Ronaldo then restored United’s lead on the hour mark with a superb free kick, but Blackburn thought they should have had a penalty when Morten Gamst Pedersen appeared to be fouled by Rafael.

But referee Howard Webb ignored the Blackburn pleas and United held out agasint the visitors to further enhance their hopes of making it three league titles in succession.

In Guus Hiddink’s first match as Chelsea manager, Nicolas Anelka’s first-half goal proved to be enough to give the visitors all three points.

Anelka put Chelsea ahead after 18 minutes, lifting the ball over Brad Friedel in the Villa goal after a good run by Frank Lampard.

Ashley Young hit the bar with a free-kick for Villa, while Gabriel Agbonlahor forced a smart save from Petr Cech and at the other end, Freidel saved well late on from Julian Belletti.

In the end, though, Chelsea hung on to move one point above Villa into third, albeit 10 points behind Manchester United.

“It’s a very good start in new circumstances and a new situation,” Hiddink said.

“What pleased me most was the first half, we played very good football, had good possession and were dangerous.

“The only thing we didn’t do was score a second to kill the game. It is important - if you see Villa’s home record, it’s good we could break that.”

Andrey Arshavin made his first start for Arsenal but though the Russian showed some nice touches, he could not help his side to victory in another frustrating day for manager Arsene Wenger.

Robin van Persie missed a good early chance, while Nicklas Bendtner headed wide. Carlos Vela dragged a good opportunity wide late on and Van Persie forced a good save from Martin Fulop in injury time.

The result was Arsenal’s third goalless draw in succession and they are now six points behind fourth-placed Villa.

“It was frustrating,” Wenger admitted. “We had the chances but we could not get the goal that would have made us happy.

“We don’t concede goals but we want to take advantage of the chances that we create - we need to play with a little bit more freedom.

“Andrey Arshavin showed some good signs but he is also showed that he is not completely fit.”

Stoke City and Portsmouth drew 2-2 in an exciting finish, with an own goal in injury time giving the visitors a share of the points. Nico Kranjcar put Portsmouth ahead on 74 minutes but a huge stroke of luck helped the home side score twice in quick succession.

First Glen Johnson was controversially adjudged to have handled the ball in the area, with James Beattie converting the penalty, and then the former Southampton and Blackburn striker, seemingly in an off-side position, put Stoke ahead from close range.

Stoke thought they had won it, but an own goal in injury time from the outstretched foot of Ryan Shawcross sealed the draw for the visitors.

At Bolton, Matthew Taylor and Kevin Davies put the home side 2-0 up within 10 minutes. West Ham dominated the second half but though Scott Parker pulled one back with 20 minutes to go, Wanderers hung on for three more points.

Middlesbrough remain in the bottom three after they could only draw 0-0 at home to Wigan Athletic.

Second-placed Liverpool are not in action until Sunday, when they play Manchester City.

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