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Published : 11 May 2009 12:03:47
Manchester United are on the brink of equalling Liverpool's record of 18 English League titles after their derby success over Manchester City. The Red Devils now need just four points from their remaining three fixtures to claim their 11th Premier League crown - and third in succession - to match the achievements of their bitter Anfield foes, whose own wait for top-flight glory is now almost certain to extend into a 20th year. Rafa Benitez's men led the way for much of the first half of the season, but a shaky spell at the turn of the year, just after the Spaniard presented his now infamous 'facts' against Sir Alex Ferguson, is likely to render their late-season surge ultimately futile. United could even be soaked in champagne before Liverpool get the chance to take to the field again as Ferguson's troops travel to Wigan on Wednesday before welcoming Arsenal to Old Trafford on Saturday, with the Reds up against West Brom on Sunday, with all three fixtures live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1. Benitez had proclaimed himself a Manchester City fan for the day, but will have been left as frustrated as all of the true Blue followers after a limp display allowed United to canter to a 2-0 success thanks to goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. Tevez clearly had a point to prove after announcing in the Sunday newspapers that he expected to leave Old Trafford in the summer as he was not made to feel a member of the 'family', while Ronaldo responded to his second-half substitution with a pointed, prolonged and petulant period of pouting. Ferguson later claimed he had no problem with the player's reaction and his decision to remove his most potent attacking threat with the game effectively won and greater challenges on the horizon made perfect sense to most in the ground, bar the Portugal international who sped away from Old Trafford soon after the final whistle. Liverpool had briefly returned to the top of the table on Saturday evening with a 3-0 success at West Ham, courtesy of a brace from skipper Steven Gerrard and a late third from substitute Ryan Babel. Despite their hugely impressive efforts during the run-in which have helped retain the tension in the title battle, all the Reds can do now is sit and watch as United tackle a Wigan side who have taken one point from five games and conceded 15 goals, before again meeting an Arsenal side they brushed aside with near-contempt in the UEFA Champions League so recently. Hangover Arsenal fans hoping for a response from their side following that European exit will again have left Emirates Stadium bitterly disappointed as Chelsea shook off their own continental hangover to claim a 4-1 success which secured third place in the table and automatic progress to next term's Champions League group phase. The final score was harsh on the hosts, but their 90-minute display provided a snap-shot of their season. Arsene Wenger's men dominated from the off but were made to rue a failure to convert any early chances before being made to pay for defensive weaknesses as Chelsea took control of the match and dominated midfield. Didier Drogba was ruled to have been bundled over by Cesc Fabregas for the free-kick which led to Alex's opener, but Emmanuel Adebayor's appalling and blatant second-half dive made Wenger's post-match complaints about certain players going to ground too easily seem a little misplaced. Former Gunner Nicolas Anelka refused to celebrate after making it 2-0, but Ashley Cole was more than happy to let everyone in north London know about the role he played in Kolo Toure's unfortunate own goal after being barracked by the fans who once idolised him. At the other end of the table, West Brom have renewed hope of yet another Premier League Great Escape as a 3-1 success at home to fading Wigan saw Tony Mowbray's men climb to within three points of a position of safety. Defeat for the Baggies, coupled with a point for Hull City at home to Stoke City would have sent the Hawthorns outfit back into the Championship, but victory for the Midlands club coupled with the Tigers' 2-1 home reverse leaves the relegation battle in the balance going into the final two games. Tony Pulis is gaining nominations for manager of the year after helping the unfashionable Potters secure their top-flight status with matches to spare as goals from Ricardo Fuller and Liam Lawrence secured a priceless three points at the KC Stadium. Counterpart Phil Brown has not seen his men in the bottom three at any stage this season, but there is now a very real danger that they will slip into the drop zone at a crucial juncture after an utterly appalling run of just one win from 20 games. ComicalBlackburn are effectively, but not mathematically, safe following their 2-0 home success over Portsmouth, who still have a little work to do to be assured of their Premier League status. Morten Gamst Pedersen and Benni McCarthy found the net for Sam Allardyce's men, with the Rovers boss meeting his initial brief of beating the drop, while John Utaka's comical late penalty miss did little to improve Paul Hart's mood after a dismal Pompey display. Bolton joined their North West neighbours on the 40-point mark following a 0-0 draw at home to Sunderland, who are another side still glancing nervously over their shoulders at the yawning trapdoor marked 'Championship' just below them. The Black Cats may rue the first-half chances squandered by Kieran Richardson, but they were also indebted to goalkeeper Marton Fulop for a crucial late save from Gary Cahill which ensured they at least picked up what could prove to be a vital point. Fulham are now in pole position to secure seventh place, and with it a Europa League berth for next season, following their 3-1 victory against an Aston Villa side who are limping along towards the finishing line. An entertaining clash at Craven Cottage was illuminated by two goals from Diomansy Kamara with Villa grateful goalkeeper Brad Friedel was in his usual impressive form to keep the scoreline respectable. Roy Hodgson deserves great praise for his efforts in turning last season's relegation battlers into European contenders, while counterpart Martin O'Neill admitted after the match summer reinforcements were required to bolster his squad after a hectic season. Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard set a new club record with his 16th clean sheet of the season in the home stalemate with Tottenham, with Spurs defender Ledley King then making the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the early hours of Sunday morning.