Saturday English Premier League Wrap: Wins for Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea
Gameweek 28 threw up a bucket load of goals and impressive performances in the English Premier League, with eight games on Saturday providing plenty of interesting pointers as to how the rest of the season might pan out.
With only one game to be played on Sunday, the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham, and one more on Monday night, Manchester City against Aston Villa, there were plenty of points at stake at both ends of the table.
With City not in action, Manchester United had the chance to extend their lead at the top of the table with a home game against Norwich, while at the foot of the table there was a vital game between Southampton and QPR.
Here's a roundup of all the day's action from the Premiership.
Chelsea 1 West Brom 0
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Chelsea put a week of bad headlines behind them to run out 1-0 winners at home to West Brom, and in so doing moved back up to third place in the Premier League.
Boss Rafa Benitez left John Terry on the bench once more, alongside forward Fernando Torres, with Demba Ba preferred to start as striker.
Ba it was who delivered the only goal of the game, just before the half-hour mark, scoring from close range after some sustained Chelsea pressure.
Much of the game served merely to remind viewers that the interim manager is simply not wanted at the London club, with Chelsea fans booing and jeering Benitez when he prowled his technical area.
Peter Odemwingie made another substitute appearance for West Brom and had their best chance to find an equaliser, but in truth the Baggies rarely threatened Petr Cech too much.
The defeat leaves West Brom in ninth place in the league, with a seven-point buffer between themselves and the bottom half of the table.
Everton 3 Reading 1
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Reading remain in plenty of relegation trouble after they were soundly beaten by Everton at Goodison Park, with the Merseyside club renewing their hopes of a European spot finish with these three points.
Having not won any of their previous three league matches, Everton were in danger of being cut adrift of the top five—but three goals without reply in the opening hour or so of the game put paid to any chances of Reading causing an upset.
It was a comfortable and impressive win for the Toffees, who scored through Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas, before Hal Robson-Kanu's late consolation for the away side.
Everton are now just two points behind Arsenal and stay in sixth place, and have still only lost once at home this season.
For Reading, the season is looking increasingly difficult, as they lost their third straight league game, and they remain in 19th place, one point from safety.
Manchester United 4 Norwich City 0
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Manchester United went 15 points clear at the top of the Premier League with a thumping 4-0 win over Norwich City.
It took until injury time at the end of the first half for United to take the lead, but it was one-way traffic after the break, as Norwich failed to register a single shot at the United goal.
Shinji Kagawa was the hero, as he scored a hat-trick for United, scoring with a low shot in the first half and then two cool finishes after the break, his first treble in English football.
Wayne Rooney hit a wonderful fourth goal as United geared up for their Champions League last 16 second leg match in style.
The league title is looking pretty secure now for the Red Devils, and their superb home form has been key to that—Saturday's win makes it 13 victories from 14 home games.
Norwich, however, drop to 13th place and have one of the worst goal differences out of any team not in the relegation zone. The Canaries have had a good enough season that they shouldn't have any fears about the drop this season, but only one win in their last 10 league games means they still need a couple more wins yet.
Southampton 1 QPR 2
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"Relegation six-pointer" would have been mentioned in every pre-match preview, radio call-in show and newspaper interview before this game kicked off, and it was perhaps more important for QPR than the home team, Southampton, to take the victory from.
The away side got off to the perfect start with a Loic Remy strike, scoring from QPR's first attack of the game after a quarter of an hour.
Gaston Ramirez equalised just before half-time and Southampton looked good for a point which would have seen them four points clear of the relegation zone, but Jay Bothroyd tapped in the winning goal with barely 10 minutes left in the match.
Southampton stay in 16th place then, and QPR remain bottom despite the three points, but they have at least closed the gap to four points between themselves and safety.
Stoke City 0 West Ham United 1
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A game of little real quality ended with just a goal between Stoke and West Ham, and it was Hammers midfielder Jack Collison who netted the all-important strike to send West Ham level on points with Stoke, though behind them in the table on goal difference.
West Ham lost two of their midfielders to injury in the opening 10 minutes of the game, with Collison coming on for Matthew Taylor in the first of those changes.
He and fellow sub Ricardo Vaz Te combined to score the game's only goal, though Stoke went close late on with a Charlie Adam shot which hit the crossbar.
Some late pressure from the home side meant West Ham had to defend stoutly near the end, but ultimately only two shots on target told the story of the match for the home team.
Stoke now sit in 11th place, with West Ham in 12th.
Sunderland 2 Fulham 2
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Sunderland came from two goals behind to deny Fulham what would have been only a third away win of the season and take a point to move them above North-East rivals Newcastle United in the table.
Dimitar Berbatov scored a penalty early on to give Fulham the lead, with Sascha Riether making it 2-0 with a close-range finish after a swift counterattack involving Bryan Ruiz and, in particular, Ashkan Dejagah.
Sunderland have lost more times than they've won at home this season, but they made sure they got straight back into the match this time with a penalty of their own just two minutes after Dejagah's goal.
Craig Gardner scored a well-struck spot kick to make it 2-1, and then late in the game, Berbatov missed the chance to make it 3-1 to Fulham, with Sunderland going straight down the other end to score through Stephane Sessegnon for 2-2 instead.
Fulham go into the top half with their point, in 10th place, while Sunderland linger in 14th—but only three points separate Fulham from the Black Cats, with plenty still to play for in the middle of the table.
Swansea City 1 Newcastle United 0
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A surprisingly low-key Swansea City performance almost resulted in them tasting defeat after the success of their Capital One Cup victory last weekend, but they rode their luck and plenty of Newcastle pressure before sealing a late 1-0 win at the Liberty Stadium.
The likes of Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko had chances for the Magpies, but Michel Vorm put in an impressive performance for the home side.
A series of deflections eventually saw the only goal of the game go in though, with a Wayne Routledge cross bouncing its way to Luke Moore, who scored his first goal of the league season via a defender.
Newcastle go down to 15th with the defeat, as their shocking away form continues this season, but Swansea move up to eighth place.
Wigan Athletic 0 Liverpool 4
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Liverpool took less than two minutes to find the back of the net at the DW Stadium, and they never looked like taking anything less than three points from that moment onwards.
Philippe Coutinho was the architect of much of the Reds' good play in the first half, and he crossed for Stewart Downing to head home the opening goal from five yards.
Coutinho then passed through the Wigan defence for Luis Suarez to stroke home Liverpool's second goal, and after half an hour, it was 3-0 as Suarez's free kick was deflected in off the post.
Wigan were already well out of the game by that point, though Pepe Reina made two good saves before the break, but just three minutes after half-time, Glen Johnson set up Suarez for his hat-trick and Liverpool's fourth.
The rest of the game was played out in extreme comfort for Liverpool, which lifts them to seventh in the league, three points off sixth place, with Wigan staying out of the relegation zone only on goal difference—but even that safety cushion was cut significantly with this thumping at home.