United stay top as Chelsea put seven past Villa

LONDON, March 27, 2010 (AFP) - Champions Manchester United restored their one-point lead at the top of the English Premier League with a 4-0 win at Bolton on Saturday, responding perfectly to Chelsea's 7-1 mauling of Aston Villa.

It took United, without injured star striker Wayne Rooney, 38 minutes to go ahead through a Jlloyd Samuel own goal at the Reebok Stadium.

And it wasn't until 21 minutes from time that United added a second when Dimitar Berbatov, leading the line in Rooney's absence, scored the first of his two goals before substitute Darron Gibson added a fourth in the 82nd minute.

Bolton Wanderers' Gary Cahill (R) vies with Manchester United's Nani (L) during their English Premier League football match on March 27, 2010. AFP PHOTO

But, either side of Samuel's own-goal, United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar made important saves from Johan Elmander and Fabrice Muamba.

"They were absolutely magnificent saves," said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

"The second one, in particular, I think was a match-winning save."

Earlier, Frank Lampard took his goal tally for the season to 21 as Chelsea briefly deposed United at the top with a 7-1 thrashing of Villa at Stamford Bridge.

"It (the team's performance) was absolutely outstanding," said Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins.

"Frank has had a remarkable season, a remarkable career. The guy works so hard in training."

Dejected Villa manager Martin O'Neill said: "We were well beaten by a fine side. We stopped competing at 3-1 and that's unforgivable."

Arsenal stayed third after dropping points in a 1-1 draw away to Birmingham.

Samir Nasri's goal nine minutes from time appeared to have sealed victory for Arsenal only for Kevin Phillips to equalise in the closing moments.

"It was a bad one for Arsenal to drop points so late in the game today," said Ferguson. "They're now four points behind us."

Frustrated Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger criticised the St Andrew's playing surface.

"It's very difficult to play football on this pitch but we will fight until the end," Wenger said.

Fourth-placed Tottenham maintained their bid for Champions League football with a 2-0 win at home to Portsmouth that pushed the visitors to the brink of relegation.

Elsewhere Stoke piled the pressure on West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola with a 1-0 win at Upton Park thanks to striker Ricardo Fuller's 69th-minute goal.

A second home defeat in a week, their sixth straight loss, left the Hammers above the relegation zone solely on goal difference after fellow strugglers Hull won 2-0 at home to Fulham.

"It think it was better than the way we played the other day but it wasn't good enough to win the game. I'm so disappointed," said Zola who later admitted he was considering his position as manager of the troubled club.

Meanwhile Wolves and Everton shared the points in a goalless draw.

At Stamford Bridge, Lampard gave Chelsea a 15th-minute lead when he struck at the far post following Florent Malouda's centre.

But Villa, who face holders Chelsea in next month's FA Cup semi-final, equalised when Norway striker John Carew turned in Ashley Young's cross in the 29th minute.

Lampard restored Chelsea's lead a minute before half-time with a penalty after James Collins tripped Yuri Zhirkov.

Malouda then made sure of the points when the France winger turned in a cross from Zhirkov in the 57th minute.

Lampard had his hat-trick when he scored his second penalty following a foul on Zhirkov by Richard Dunne.

Villa conceded another when Malouda scored his 13th of the season after being played in by Lampard. Salomon Kalou made it 6-1 and there was still time for Lampard to score his fourth.

In the other FA Cup semi-final dress rehearsal, between Tottenham and Portsmouth, former Pompey striker Peter Crouch opened the scoring in the 27th minute when he headed past fellow England international David James.

Spurs doubled their lead four minutes before the break through another Pompey old boy, Niko Kranjcar.

Defeat nudged Portsmouth nearer relegation and was made worse by what appeared to be an Achilles injury to defender Hermann Hreidarsson.

Hull's Jimmy Bullard scored against his old club Fulham from the penalty spot in the 16th minute after Jozy Altidore was brought down by Chris Smalling at the KC Stadium.

The Tigers made it 2-0 three minutes after the break when Craig Fagan looped a header over Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

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