Manchester misery as United crash, City axe Hughes

LONDON, Dec 19, 2009 (AFP) - Fulham produced the latest twist in a see-saw Premier League title race with a shock 3-0 win over champions Manchester United at Craven Cottage on Saturday.

Goals from Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff condemned injury-hit United to their fifth league loss of the season.

Fulham's Clint Dempsey (R) vies with Manchester United's Antonio Valencia during the English Premier League football match between Fulham and Manchester United at Craven Cottage in London, England on December 19, 2009. AFP PHOTO

Meanwhile, Manchester City manager Mark Hughes was sacked, despite seeing his side defeat Sunderland 4-3 in an Eastlands thriller, and replaced by former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini.

United's defeat left Sir Alex Ferguson's team, without several sidelined defenders, three points behind leaders Chelsea.

The Blues will extend their advantage to six points if they win away to relegation-threatened West Ham on Sunday.

"The way the league is at the moment I hope today is not too damaging. I hope it doesn't cost us the league," Ferguson told club channel MUTV.

"We'll have to get our defenders back to give us a proper chance of going for the league, there's no question of that. But if we get them back we'll be back in it."

At Eastlands, Roque Santa Cruz gave Manchester City a fourth-minute lead against Sunderland before Carlos Tevez made it 2-0 from the penalty spot.

But the visitors hit back through a John Mensah header before Jordan Henderson tied the match up at 2-2 from 14 yards.

Craig Bellamy restored City's lead with a curling shot but Sunderland replied again through Kenwyne Jones's 62nd-minute header, only for Santa Cruz to make it 4-3 seven minutes later.

Just before full-time, Sunderland's Michael Turner was sent-off for leading with his elbow.

Then came the drama of Hughes's departure, after City's second win in 11 league games was not enough to keep the Welshman in his job, with the club's billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour demanding a greater return on his 200-million-pound player (225-million-euro) investment.

City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: "A return of two wins in 11 Premier League games is clearly not in line with the targets that were agreed and set.

"Sheikh Mansour and the board felt that there was no evidence that the situation would fundamentally change."

Arsenal stayed third after a 3-0 win over Hull in Saturday's late kick-off, with Denilson, Eduardo and Abou Diaby on target at the Emirates Stadium but Liverpool's miserable season hit a new low as Javier Mascherano was sent-off in a 2-0 defeat away to bottom-of-the-table Portsmouth.

Fulham, who beat United 2-0 at home last season, took the lead in the 22nd minute at Craven Cottage when former Liverpool midfielder Murphy dispossessed Paul Scholes and let fly with a 25-yard shot.

United fielded a makeshift defence featuring midfielders Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher, as well as youngster Ritchie de Laet.

Seconds into the second half, Fulham were 2-0 up after Zamora lashed in a half-volley. Zamora then set up Duff, who volleyed home 15 minutes from time.

Liverpool, already out of the Champions League, have won just four of their last 17 matches in all competitions and face a desperate fight to salvage a place in the Premier League's top four.

The Reds fell behind in the 33rd minute when Algeria defender Nadir Belhadj struck a ferocious volley for his first goal of the season.

Liverpool's day got worse when Argentina midfielder Mascherano was dismissed for an ugly lunge on Tal Ben Haim just before half-time.

French striker Frederic Piquionne piled on the misery for Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, who is certain to face more heavy criticism after this defeat, when he struck in the 82nd minute.

"We were a good team in the first half and the sending off changed everything," said Benitez.

Portsmouth, celebrating their second win under new manager Avram Grant, moved level on points with second-bottom West Ham, but remain behind the Hammers on goals scored.

Grant, whose side pushed Chelsea hard before losing 2-1 in mid-week, said: "From game to game we are playing better and we deserved the win."

Elsewhere, Aston Villa continued their push for a top-four spot with a 1-0 win at home to Stoke City thanks to a 61st-minute goal from substitute John Carew.

Fellow European contenders Tottenham Hotspur, fresh from their 3-0 midweek win over Manchester City, beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 with two goals from England striker Peter Crouch.

Sunday's other top-flight matches see in-form Birmingham travel to Everton while strugglers Wolves are at home to Burnley.

Source: AFP

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