Mancini off to winning start as Chelsea stutter again

LONDON, Dec 26, 2009 (AFP) - Roberto Mancini's reign as Manchester City manager began on a winning note on Saturday but it was another frustrating day for his fellow Italian Carlo Ancelotti as Premier League leaders Chelsea were held to a goalless draw by Birmingham.

City's first match since Mancini's controversial replacement of Mark Hughes ended in a 2-0 win over Stoke that lifted the Abu Dhabi-backed club back to within three points of the top four place targeted by their new Italian manager.

Manchester City's Italian manager Roberto Mancini reacts during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Stoke City at the City Of Manchester Stadium in Manchester on December 26, 2009. AFP PHOTO

It could hardly have gone any better for the former Inter Milan boss, who was warmly received by the fans before goals from Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov and Carlos Tevez had the points wrapped up by half-time.

"I'm very happy because we won a hard match," Mancini said. "The players were fantastic. We have been working together for only five days and we must improve but it is a good start."

Ancelotti meanwhile struggled to put a convincing positive spin on his side's display after a draw that left Chelsea with just one win in seven matches in all competitions and extended Birmingham's unbeaten run in the league to ten games.

"We had a lot of chances, showed very good heart and the goalkeeper for Birmingham made very good saves," Ancelotti said. "We are disappointed with the result but not the performance."

Birmingham goalkeeper Joe Hart certainly helped earn Alex McLeish's side their point with a string of fine saves.

But Ancelotti will be concerned about his side's lack of goals as he prepares for a month without strike duo Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, who will only be available for Monday's match against Fulham before heading for the African Nations Cup in Angola.

The result of the stalemate at St Andrew's is that Manchester United can cut Chelsea's lead at the top back to two points by beating Hull at the KC Stadium on Sunday.

With Aston Villa's meeting with Arsenal also scheduled for Sunday, Tottenham had the opportunity to move up to third place in the table.

But Harry Redknapp's side could muster no more than a goalless draw from their cross-London trip to Fulham, for whom Clint Dempsey struck the bar with a first-half free-kick.

Liverpool moved back to within five points of a top four finish with a 2-0 win over struggling Wolves at Anfield.

It was a much-needed win for Rafael Benitez's squad but a far from convincing one.

The decisive goals -- a rare header from Steven Gerrard and a Yossi Benayoun strike -- both came after Wolves had been reduced to ten men following a second yellow card for stand-in left-back Stephen Ward.

West Ham clawed themselves out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Portsmouth.

Gianfranco Zola's side started the day just one point ahead of bottom side Pompey but goals from Alessandro Diamanti, who put the hosts ahead with a first half penalty, and Radoslav Kovac enabled the Hammers to boost their hopes of beating the drop.

David Nugent's header earned Burnley a 1-1 draw in their Lancashire derby clash with Bolton, who had gone ahead through Matthew Taylor's superb first-half free-kick.

Bolton remain in the bottom three while Burnley are three points clear of the drop zone.

A late equaliser by Marouane Fellaini enabled injured-plagued Everton to snatch a point at Sunderland, who had claimed a deserved first-half lead through a Darren Bent header that was the England striker's 11th goal of the season.

Benni McCarthy's first league goal of the season was cancelled out by Hugo Rodallega's header as Wigan came from behind to secure a 1-1 draw in their Lancashire derby with fellow strugglers Bolton.

Source: AFP

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