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Sunday, December 31, 2006

 

Red-hot Ronaldo sends Man Utd six points clear of Chelsea

Cristiano Ronaldo presented Sir Alex Ferguson with a perfect birthday present on Saturday by ensuring that Manchester United will enter the New Year with a six-point lead over title rivals Chelsea.

Ronaldo extended his recent scoring run with a second-half double as United overcame Reading 3-2 at Old Trafford on a day that saw Chelsea drop points for a second consecutive game with a 2-2 draw at home to Fulham.

Ronaldo's third consecutive double, which ensured that Ferguson will be able to celebrate his 65th birthday on Sunday in style, came after Ibrahima Sonka had cancelled out Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's 33rd-minute opener.

Leroy Lita claimed a late consolation strike for the visitors but they were unable to match their Boxing Day achievement, when they held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were left frustrated as American defender Carlos Bocanegra snatched a late equaliser for Fulham, the eighth goal the champions have conceded in four matches.

Chelsea had fallen behind to a rare goal from German fullback Moritz Volz in the 16th minute but got back on level terms when Frank Lampard's shot was deflected in by young Fulham defender Liam Rosenior ten minutes before the break.

A Chelsea victory looked inevitable when Didier Drogba headed in his 20th goal of the season just after the hour mark only for Bocanegra to ruin Jose Mourinho's New Year celebrations.

Elsewhere Bolton moved up to third place with a 3-2 home win over fellow high-fliers Portsmouth courtesy of another shock defeat for Arsenal, who were beaten 1-0 by Sheffield United.

Christian Nade's first Premiership goal, four minutes before half-time, was enough to fire the Blades to a win that leaves them five points clear of the relegation zone.

Matt Taylor had given Portsmouth a second-minute lead at Bolton. But the home side hit back with first-half goals from Abdoulaye Faye and Ivan Campo before Nicolas Anelka, with his eighth goal in seven matches, put the match beyond the reach of the visitors, for whom Andy Cole notched a late consolation effort.

Liverpool also finished 2006 on a high, climbing back into fourth place after puncturing Tottenham's 12-match winning run at home with a hard-fought 1-0 win at White Hart Lane.

Luis Garcia's first-half strike made the difference, the Spanish midfielder finishing from close range after a Steven Gerrard shot was deflected into his path.

At the bottom, Charlton gave their survival chances a huge boost with a 2-1 win over ten-man Aston Villa, while West Ham's hopes of escaping the drop zone were crushed by a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Manchester City.

Charlton's first victory under new manager Alan Pardew was secured by a Byran Hughes's last-minute winner after Darren Bent had cancelled out a first-half penalty from Gareth Barry, who was sent off for a professional foul just after Charlton's equaliser.

West Ham went down to DaMarcus Beasley's 83rd minute goal for City, who finish the year in the top half of the table.

Middlesbrough are now the closest side to the relegation zone -- three points above West Ham -- following a 2-1 defeat by Blackburn at Ewood Park.

South African striker Benni McCarthy nodded in Blackburn's winner after Aiyegbeni Yakubu, with a second-half penalty, had cancelled out Shabani Nonda's early opener for the home side.

Lagos-born teenager Victor Anichebe opened his Premiership goalscoring account with a pair of poacher's strikes in Everton's 3-0 win over Newcastle.

A memorable day for Anichebe was mirrored by the misery of Newcastle's Nigerian star Obafemi Martins, who spurned the chance to put his side on level terms by blasting a first-half penalty over the bar. Phil Neville's first league goal since November 2002 completed a convincing win for Everton.

Bottom side Watford's clash with Wigan was abandoned because of a water-logged pitch with the two sides tied at 1-1.

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