LONDON, May 2, 2010 (AFP) - Chelsea and Manchester United held their nerve on Sunday to ensure the Premier League title race will go down to the wire.
United beat Sunderland 1-0 just hours after leaders Chelsea defeated Liverpool 2-0 leaving Sir Alex Ferguson's defending champions to head into the final weekend a point beind Carlo Ancelotti's side.
|Sunderland's goalkeeper Craig Gordon (L) saves from Manchester United's Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov (C) during the English Premiership football match at The Stadium Of Light, Sunderland, on May 2, 2010. AFP PHOTO|
Chelsea can win the title for the first time since 2006 if they beat Wigan at home on Sunday.
But United will retain the crown, and claim a record 19th English championship, if the Blues drop points and Ferguson's men beat Stoke at Old Trafford.
At Anfield, Ancelotti's side enjoyed an easy ride thanks to Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, whose poor back-pass allowed Didier Drogba to open the scoring in the first half before Frank Lampard struck after the interval.
Drogba told Sky Sports 1: "He (Gerrard) made a big mistake. I was lucky to be there and score. It was good because this goal gave us a lot of confidence to play well."
Ancelotti admitted the result had put Chelsea on the verge of title glory.
"It was a very important step for our fight for the title," he said. "We played very well, we deserved to win.
"We are happy because it was a difficult step against Liverpool. Tactically we did very well."
Liverpool's usually vociferous fans were extremely subdued as they refused to roar their team to a win that could help bitter enemies United land the title.
Rafael Benitez's players gave slightly more effort and dominated the early stages, but United would have been furious at the careless way Gerrard gifted Chelsea the lead in the 33rd minute.
Under no real pressure in midfield, Gerrard turned towards his own goal and played a back-pass that Drogba gratefully seized before rounding Jose Reina and slotting into the empty net for his 33rd goal of the season.
Ancelotti's side took total control after that and Lampard increased their lead in the 54th minute when he slid in to convert Nicolas Anelka's low cross.
At the Stadium of Light, United were in control for long periods and Ryan Giggs hit the woodwork before Portugal winger Nani put the champions ahead in the 28th minute with a fine curling strike from Darren Fletcher's pass.
United, who had England striker Wayne Rooney back in the team after a groin injury, wasted several chances to increase their lead but were able to close out the win with ease.
Ferguson insists United will not give up hope of a Chelsea slip next weekend.
"All we can do is win our game next week," he told Sky Sports 1. "Obviously I wouldn't say its a sealed result against Wigan by any shadow of a doubt.
"They're a good team, they'll have a go and you just never know. It's a crazy game.
"Maybe we are clutching at straws a little bit. It is important for us to win in front of our home fans and play the right way.
"It would be a incredible achievement for us. At the least we have stretched it (the title race) and kept the nerves going."
Elsewhere on Sunday, Europa League finalists Fulham clinched a 3-2 win over West Ham at Craven Cottage.
Roy Hodgson's side, who face Atletico Madrid in the final after beating Hamburg in Thursday's semi-final, took the lead through Clint Dempsey on the stroke of half-time.
Carlton Cole's own goal increased Fulham's lead in the 58th minute before West Ham striker Cole reduced the deficit moments later.
Stefano Okaka netted for Fulham in the 79th minute and Guillermo Franco's late goal was little consolation for the Hammers.