England round-up: United hit the heights

Ruud van Nistelrooij scored a hat-trick as Manchester United FC moved a point clear at the top.

A hat-trick from Ruud van Nistelrooij helped Manchester United FC to a 3-0 home win against Fulham FC that took Sir Alex Ferguson’s team top of the Premiership.

Slender lead
The Old Trafford side moved one point ahead of champions Arsenal FC, who are at home to Everton FC on Sunday. United began positively, with visiting goalkeeper Maik Taylor forced to make a fine early save from Van Nistelrooij before Paul Scholes shot just over the crossbar and Ryan Giggs’s tenth-minute effort was cleared off the line by Andy Melville.

Penalty opener
However, Fulham created chances of their own, with Martin Djetou’s effort beating goalkeeper Fabien Barthez but coming back off the bar, before Louis Saha shot narrowly wide. The home team took the lead a minute before half-time, as Djetou was penalised for holding back Ole Gunnar Solksjær inside the area and Van Nistelrooij made no mistake from the penalty spot.

Spectacular second
It was 2-0 midway after 68 minutes as the Dutch international forward scored a spectacular second, picking up the ball in the centre circle and beating four defenders before placing the ball past Taylor. Van Nistelrooij completed the win in the final minute, as his volley from Giggs’s cross was deflected into the net off Jon Harley.

Five-star Newcastle
Newcastle United FC shrugged off the disappointment of their midweek elimination from the UEFA Champions League to keep up the pressure on the top two with a 5-1 win at home to Blackburn Rovers FC. Nolberto Solano, Laurent Robert, Jermaine Jenas, a Vratislav Gresko own goal and Craig Bellamy were all on target, although Damien Duff’s fine equaliser had given the away team temporary hope.

Comfortable victory
Chelsea FC also kept up their challenge for a Champions League place, with goals from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, John Terry, Mario Stanic, Frank Lampard and William Gallas securing a resounding 5-0 home win against Manchester City FC, who lost Sun Jihai to a late red card. Fellow European challengers Liverpool FC are at home to Leeds United AFC on Sunday.

Crucial points
At the other end of the table, West Ham United FC moved out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win against bottom side Sunderland AFC, with goals from Jermain Defoe and Frédéric Kanouté moving the home team a point above Bolton Wanderers FC, who are at home to Tottenham Hotspur FC on Monday.

Late drama
Birmingham City FC secured a vital three points against local rivals West Bromwich Albion FC, with Geoff Horsfield scoring a crucial goal four minutes into added time to give the home side a 1-0 victory that left West Brom deep in relegation trouble while moving Birmingham further away from the bottom of the table.

Entertaining draws
Elsewhere, Southampton FC recovered from two goals down for the second successive week, with James Beattie and Kevin Davies's last-minute equaliser securing a draw with Aston Villa FC, who had taken a 2-0 lead through first-half goals from Lee Hendrie and Darius Vassell. Meanwhile Malcolm Christie’s 57th-minute equaliser earned Middlesbrough a point at home to Charlton Athletic FC.