Five-star United cruise, Bent downs City

LONDON, Jan 23, 2011 (AFP) - Dimitar Berbatov struck a hat-trick to cement Manchester United's lead at the top of the Premier League on Saturday as Darren Bent scored on his Aston Villa debut to derail Manchester City's title push.

Berbatov took his goals tally for the season to 18 in all competitions as Birmingham were crushed 5-0 at Old Trafford, evergreen midfielder Ryan Giggs and Nani scoring the other goals for the Red Devils.

"Dimitar was marvellous," United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said. "He could have scored more and we were a bit wasteful at times with our finishing but you can't complain at that performance, that was the important thing."

In the late kick-off, Villa's 24-million-pound signing Bent struck on 18 minutes against City to give Gerard Houllier's side a precious 1-0 win.

Bent, a surprise departure from Sunderland, has now scored on his debut for three clubs, having struck goals in his first games for Charlton, Sunderland, and now Villa.

Darren Bent (L) scores the opening goal during the match between Aston Villa and Manchester City on January 22, 2011. AFP

"His finishing touch was just like a natural-born goalscorer," said Houllier.

"It's something that we can't teach because he was full of composure, so that's what he's here for to score goals."

City assistant manager Brian Kidd was convinced his side would recover from the setback.

"Our aim at the beginning of this season was to get in the top four. We lost at Everton and responded very well and I'm sure we will respond in the right fashion in the coming games," said Kidd.

The defeat was a blow to big-spending City, who could have gone level on points with United at the top of the table with a win.

Instead, they were elbowed out of second spot by Arsenal, who saw Robin Van Persie score hat-trick -- and miss a penalty -- in a 3-0 win over 10-man Wigan.

"He is back in form," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of Van Persie's virtuoso display. "He was already fit and sharp last week and overall we had a good team performance so he could finish with a hat-trick."

With Manchester City dropping down to third, Chelsea remain fourth. The reigning champions play Bolton on Monday.

Elsewhere Saturday, Tottenham scrambled a point at Newcastle after Aaron Lennon scored in injury time to equalise Fabricio Coloccini's 59th-minute strike for the Magpies. The result saw Spurs hold on to fifth spot.

In the early kick-off, Kenny Dalglish recorded his first win since returning as Liverpool manager as the Merseyside giants secured a 3-0 victory at Wolves.

Two goals from Fernando Torres and a sensational Raul Meireles effort ensured a vital three points for Liverpool, who moved up to 10th after a dominant display at Molineux.

The win was Liverpool's first away from home since October, and only their second of the season.

Dalglish's first three matches in charge since he replaced Roy Hodgson earlier this month had seen defeats against Manchester United and Blackpool before a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Everton last week.

Dalglish was left purring at the performance of Torres, who appears to be revitalised since the departure of Hodgson.

"I thought he was fantastic," Dalglish said.

"Apart from the two goals, he worked his socks off. He was threatening an awful lot of the time. That performance will do for us every day of the week."

The result left Wolves one place off the bottom after West Ham were denied a vital win by Everton in an entertaining 2-2 draw at Goodison.

West Ham looked to have hauled themselves out of the relegation zone when Frederic Piquionne fired them 2-1 ahead on 84 minutes, after Everton's Diniyar Bilyaletdinov had cancelled out Jonathan Spector's first-half strike.

But Piquionne was then sent-off and Marouane Fellaini snatched an injury-time equaliser to thwart West Ham, who remain bottom.

At Bloomfield Road, Sunderland bounced back from this week's disappointing loss of Bent to Aston Villa to record a 2-1 win over Blackpool, Kieran Richardson bagging a brace of goals.

The Black Cats took the lead after 15 minutes, breaking swiftly on the counter before Richardson rounded off the move with a deft finish.

Richardson doubled the visitors lead on 36 minutes, burying a first-time shot after fine work down the left flank by Steed Malbranque.

Charlie Adam pulled a goal back from the penalty spot for Blackpool four minutes from time but Sunderland held on for the away win.

Fulham meanwhile pulled themselves further away from the relegation dogfight with a 2-0 win over Stoke.

Other news