Arsenal FC's lead at the top of the Premiership was cut to just two points after the champions slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers FC.
Tight at the top
Second-placed Manchester United FC secured a narrow 1-0 victory at Aston Villa FC in Saturday's early game to leave the championship in the balance.
Arsenal were without David Seaman, Sol Campbell and Patrick Vieira and suffered an early blow when defender Martin Keown was forced off with a hamstring injury. The away side fell behind after 24 minutes when Republic of Ireland international winger Damien Duff marked his return from injury with the opening goal, forcing the ball into the net after his and Tugay Kerimoglu’s shots had been blocked.
The Turkish international midfield player doubled his side’s lead seven minutes into the second period with a powerful shot from outside the penalty area and a below-par Arsenal were unable to find a way back into the game.
A David Beckham goal after 12 minutes proved enough for Manchester United at Villa, as the England captain scored from close range from Ryan Giggs’s cross. Both sides had further chances, with Darius Vassell seeing his shot saved by goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and Mustapha Hadji shooting just wide.
Giggs goes close
United also had opportunities to increase their lead, Giggs hitting the post with a free-kick and John O’Shea’s effort from a corner cleared off the line by Hadji, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had to settle for a single-goal victory.
Third-placed Newcastle United FC also enjoyed an away win, securing a 2-0 victory at Charlton Athletic FC. Alan Shearer opened the scoring with a penalty after strike partner Craig Bellamy had been fouled, and the Welsh forward then created the second goal for Nolberto Solano shortly after the interval.
Everton FC remained in fourth despite being held to a goalless draw at home by West Ham United FC, while nearest challengers Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC travel to Tottenham Hotspur FC and West Bromwich Albion FC respectively on Sunday.
At the bottom of the table, new Sunderland AFC manager Mick McCarthy saw his side slip to a 2-0 defeat at home to fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers FC, with second-half goals from Jay-Jay Okocha and Per Frandsen securing three vital points for the away side.
In an exciting game, Middlesbrough FC won 3-2 at local rivals Leeds United AFC, who took the lead through Mark Viduka midway through the first period. However, goals from Massimo Maccarone and Juninho Paulista turned the game around before half-time, and Geremi added a third in the second period, meaning Viduka’s second 14 minutes from time was little consolation.
Fulham FC also looked to have secured three points as they led Southampton FC 2-0 with ten minutes remaining thanks to Louis Saha strike and a Michael Svensson own goal either side of half-time. However, goals in the closing stages from James Beattie and Svensson secured an unlikely draw for the away side.
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