Premier League round-up
Liverpool are back at the top of the table, the Great Escape part two remains a reality for West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City will be playing in the Premier League next season after they defeated struggling Hull City, while Blackburn Rovers all-but secured their top-flight status. With Manchester United not in action until Sunday when they tackle Manchester City, Liverpool took full advantage to climb back to the summit with a 3-0 victory away to West Ham. West Brom headed into the weekend programme aware that they could suffer relegation, but a performance, spearheaded by Marc-Antoine Fortune, saw Tony Mowbray's charges overcome an out-of-form Wigan Athletic outfit. Hull City now sit in a precarious position after they slumped to a 2-1 loss at home to Stoke, whose victory guaranteed they can play out their final two games of the season carefree. Blackburn, while not mathematically safe, look secure after an impressive showing against Portsmouth, who dropped to 15th in the standings following a 2-0 defeat at Ewood Park. Fulham climbed back into the European places with a 3-1 victory over fifth-placed Aston Villa, with Diomansy Kamara a threat throughout the 90 minutes at Craven Cottage. Sunderland gained a point away at Bolton Wanderers but may rue chances missed during the encounter, while Everton and Tottenham Hotspur also played out a goalless draw. Liverpool are back on top of the Premier League, temporarily at least, courtesy of Steven Gerrard's first-half double against West Ham. Rafa Benitez's title hopefuls needed just 76 seconds to break the deadlock at Upton Park as Fernando Torres' slide-rule pass sent Gerrard racing clear to round Rob Green and slot home. Luis Boa Morte then pulled back Torres in the box, with Gerrard's initial spot-kick saved superbly by Green but the England midfielder followed up to score. Ryan Babel stepped off the bench to complete the scoring in the closing stages as he saw his initial header from Dirk Kuyt's cross saved by Green before firing home the rebound. West Bromwich Albion moved level on points with fellow strugglers Middlesbrough and Newcastle United, who meet on Monday, to pour misery on sliding Wigan Athletic. Tony Mowbray's strugglers took the lead in the eighth minute after Wigan shot-stopper Chris Kirkland could only parry Gianni Zuiverloon's rasping strike, and on-loan forward Fortune nodded home into an empty net at the far post. Wigan restored parity just nine minutes after the home side had gone ahead as Hugo Rodallega opened his goalscoring account for the Latics via a free-kick that caught a deflection off the Baggies wall to wrong-foot keeper Dean Kiely. With news of Hull trailing against Stoke, West Brom's survival hopes were given an extra lift when defender Titus Bramble bundled into Fortune inside the penalty area. Chris Brunt stepped up and saw his first effort saved, but his blushes were spared as made no mistake from the rebound to make it 2-1. And Fortune completed an excellent outing as he worked room to receive Borja Valero's clever cutback and dispatched via the aid of a deflection to leave the Baggies within three points of 17th-placed Hull. Tigers troubledStoke City ensured they will be playing in the Premier League next season courtesy of a professional showing at the KC Stadium that sealed a 2-1 win to leave Hull City, who, despite rallying at the end, look very nervously over their shoulders. The Potters struck four minutes before the half-time interval when Liam Lawrence's in-swinging corner saw striker Ricardo Fuller react quickest following unconvincing defending from Hull, the Jamaican swivelling and then firing into the net. The Tigers' misery was compounded, despite spells of pressure, in the second period when Liam Lawrence took hold of the ball following a Stoke counter-attack and let fly with a truly brilliant effort that dipped into the top corner and left Boaz Myhill with not a prayer. However, a delightful free-kick by Andy Dawson in the dying stages handed Hull an unlikely lifeline and then, to much drama, Geovanni's deflected shot looked goalbound only for the ball to fall the wrong side of the netting. Blackburn Rovers now sit on 40 points as they claimed a comfortable victory over Paul Hart's Portsmouth, who still mathematically remain threatened by the drop. Rovers went ahead on 31 minutes as Christopher Samba, again playing as a striker, caused havoc in the Pompey penalty area following a deep ball from Stephen Warnock. Goalkeeper David James was suspect as he tried to gather a Samba chest-down and Morten Gamst Pedersen lashed home at the tightest of angles. On 58 minutes, Rovers were awarded a penalty by referee Mike Riley after Hermann Hreidarsson was adjudged to have handled in the area, and striker Benni McCarthy stepped up to net a crucial goal for the home side. Riley continued his generosity during the final stages of the game as he gave Pompey a penalty when the ball struck Keith Andrews' hand. However, substitute John Utaka's effort ballooned over the bar, much to the disgust of the travelling support. Cottagers climbFulham continued their march towards Europa League qualification as they disposed of Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa, who had only recently ended a poor run of form, with a 3-1 win at Craven Cottage. The home side were handed a dream start when a nudge in the back from James Milner on Diomansy Kamara saw referee Mark Halsey point to the spot, and Danny Murphy kept his cool to slot past Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel on six minutes. But Milner made amends for his clumsiness just eight minutes later when his teasing and dangerous cross evaded the Fulham backline to allow PFA Young Player of the Year Ashley Young to ghost in at the back post and fire home. Kamara was in the thick of the action straight after the break and his flick saw Clint Dempsey do enough to ensure the ball is returned back to the Senegalese, who wound up and thundered a low shot into the far corner. And the Cottagers opened up a two-goal lead and sealed the win on the hour mark with Kamara the hero again as he skilfully back-heeled home on the goalline after Brede Hangeland headed goalwards from Murphy's corner kick. Sunderland enjoyed a decent first-half showing at the Reebok Stadium but were unable to convert their goalscoring opportunities, with Kieran Richardson guilty of profligacy, while the draw sees Bolton Wanderers reach the much-coveted 40-point mark. Everton and Tottenham Hotspur played out a largely uneventful 0-0 stalemate at Goodison Park, with the FA Cup finalists going closest as Dan Gosling struck the woodwork in the second half.
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