Antonio Valencia of Manchester United runs with the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Premier League, Week 31: Manchester United Defeat Blackburn

The Red Devils have extended their lead atop the Premier League with a hard-fought win over Blackburn.

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Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester United, 2012 Premier League: Red Devils Five Points Clear After Late Win

Goals from Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia in the final ten minutes saw Manchester United move five points clear at the top of the Premier League.


Newcastle Vs. Liverpool, 2012 Premier League: Full Time, Newcastle Win, Reina Sent Off

Newcastle beat Liverpool by a score of 2-0, with Pappis Cisse getting a goal either side of half time. Newcastle now go level on points with Chelsea, 2 points back of Tottenham in 4th, while Liverpool fall behind rivals Everton. On his return to Newcastle, Andy Carroll's only contribution of note was to be booked for diving in the penalty area and to head over the Newcastle goal.

Hatem Ben Arfa was, along with Cisse, the standout man for Newcastle. He gave Jose Enrique a torrid time at left back, and set up Cisse's first goal with a beautiful cross that was headed back across goal and in off the post. Cisse could've doubled the score just before halftime, when Ben Arfa again found Cisse. This time, the Senegalese headed just wide.

Newcastle, though, would get the second goal. It was a wonderful team move, with Cabaye and Ba combining to slip in Cisse, who dragged the ball past Reina and then slotted into the net. There, was, however, controversy; the pass from Ba, which was clearly intended for Cisse, meant that Cisse was at least 3 yards offside. Before the pass reached Cisse, though, Ben Arfa and Martin Skrtel went for the ball, and may have got a touch, though it looked unlikely.

Liverpool could've come straight back into the game right after Cisse had scored. A cross from Enrique had Krul flapping and miss the ball, with it coming back to Luis Suarez. His shot, though, was brilliantly blocked by James Perch, who was superb in a makeshift Newcatle back line.

There were more problems for Liverpool on 84 minutes. After claiming a cross, Pepe Reina got into an altercation with James Perch, which ended with Reina headbutting the Newcastle man. Although Perch went down extremely easily, it was a textbook red card. With all 3 subs used, Enrique went into goal, but didn't face a shot. Reina will now miss the FA Cup semi-final, as a bad day for Liverpool got worse.


Premier League Week 31, Saturday Wrap: Bolton, Wigan Record Key Wins In Relegation Battle

Wolverhampton vs. Bolton Wanderers

Bolton Wanderers came from behind at the Molineux to secure a vital three points in their continuing fight against relegation. Owen Coyle's men came to Wolverhampton having won two league matches on the trot, but things didn't start very well - Wolves were all over them in the first half and the hosts had by far the better chances, eventually taking the lead through Michael Kightly with a long-range effort just after the break.

Bolton then got lucky with a dodgy penalty after Mark Davies was adjudged to be fouled by Roger Johnson, and Martin Petrov's spot kick led to a flurry of goals, with Marcus Alonso making it 2-1 before Kevin Davies sealed victory for the visitors with six minutes left. Wolves pulled one back in stoppage time to make it 3-2, but ultimately couldn't stop Bolton from pulling off a vital 3-2 victory.

Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion

Everton got off to a flying start at home and never looked back, winning 2-0 via a Gareth McAuley own goal and then a second-half strike from Victor Anichebe. The Toffees dominated the match despite not playing particularly well, stopping West Brom from creating anything at all for most of the match, and Anichebe's goal managed to take the wind out of the visitors' sails, dashing any hope they had of a comeback. A professional, solid win.

Wigan Athletic Vs. Stoke City

Wigan have won their second straight match for the first time in what sources tell me is at least thirteen million years. A victory against Liverpool has been followed up by a comfortable 2-0 home win against Stoke City. The Latics were well on top for much of the match but thanks to some amazing missed chances a breakthrough had to wait until the second half when Antolin Alcaraz nodded in Jean Beausejour's cross, and Victor Moses sealed the win when he rounded Asmir Begovic and slotted home in stoppage time.

Fulham Vs. Norwich City

Clint Dempsey's opener set the tone at Craven Cottage where Fulham beat Norwich City 2-1. There was an element of fortune about the American's strike, his 19th of the season - Byran Ruiz's effort was virtually pushed into him by an unfortunate John Ruddy - but there was nothing lucky about the second after Dempsey laid a classy pass to the feet of Damian Duff, with the winger curling a delicious effort home.

Norwich tried to fight back and got a deserved goal via Aaron Wilbraham in the 77th minute as the substitute's shot was deflected in off poor Aaron Hughes, and that goal was the catalyst for the visitors to throw bodies forward in an attempt to find an equaliser. They came very close, but ultimately fell short.


QPR Vs. Arsenal, 2012 Premier League: Final Score, Arsenal Lose 2-1

Queens Park Rangers gave themselves a major boost in their fight to avoid relegation with a surprising home win against Arsenal. The Gunners had been on a superb run of form and QPR... well, hadn't. None of that mattered, however, when the teams met at Loftus Road.

Arsenal were sloppy from the beginning, with the midfield and defence looking especially pourous, and it was clearly only a matter of time before they conceded. Smart money was on the goal coming from Bobby Zamora, who spent much of the match bullying Laurent Koscielny into oblivion, but instead the opener arrived from a rather more unexpected source: Adel Taarabt.

The Moroccan hadn't scored a goal all season, but he picked a good time to finally get on the scoresheet with a brilliant run and finish that also involved making Thomas Vermaelen making a fool of himself. Taarabt capped off his strike with a flourish, putting on a fez and tossing it into the crowd, picking up what was quite possibly the best booking of all time in the process.

The visitors may not have been playing well but they're always a potent force going forward, and Theo Walcott made sure the match went into halftime level after a somewhat lucky goal - the England winger hit the post before picking up his own rebound and slotting home. It was their first real chance of the game and it gave them some added impetus, and from then until the end of the first half Arsenal were ascendant.

That rebirth turned out to be abortive. Twenty minutes after halftime, Jamie Mackie took advantage of a slip by Vermaelen and pulled the ball back to Samba Diakite, who slammed past Wojciech Szczesny to make it 2-1 for QPR. Arsenal threw bodies forward in a fruitless try to earn an equaliser, but the hosts actually looked more likely to score, and they nearly made it 3-1 when Joey Barton got free in the box. It didn't matter - the whistle blew, and the Hoops ended up 2-1 winners.


Aston Villa Vs. Chelsea, 2012 Premier League: Fernando Torres! And Five Other Goals!

Chelsea were handed a scare by two Aston Villa second half goals, but thanks to some of Villa's trademark rubbish set piece defending and a goal from a very unlikely source, they ended up winning by a score that looks somewhat comfortable. The Blues relinquished an early lead and allowed Villa to equalize at 2-2, but scored twice in the final 10 minutes to win 4-2.

It took just nine minutes for Chelsea to take the lead through Daniel Sturridge. Juan Mata set up the chance with a cross into the box towards Fernando Torres, who had his shot brilliantly blocked by Stephen Warnock. Unfortunately for Villa, the deflection fell to an unmarked Sturridge, who had a simple finish.

Branislav Ivanovic doubled Chelsea's lead just after halftime with a header on a very poorly marked corner kick. At that point, Chelsea did the footballing equivalent of setting their cruise control at the speed limit, then ceasing to pay attention to the road. They fell asleep and smacked the hell out of the guard rail.

James Collins pulled a goal back in the 77th minute with a header by James Collins, assisted by Eric Lichaj. The American international fullback would find a goal of his own just three minutes later, tapping in a Marc Albrighton cross at the back post after he completely lost Ashley Cole. Out of absolutely nowhere, Aston Villa were level.

It only lasted three minutes. Once again, their set piece defending failed them, as Ivanovic was gifted yet another easy headed goal in the 83rd minute to put the Blues back on top. They put the exclamation point on the win with a goal from Fernando Torres, who got on the end of a through ball by Sturridge to net just his third league goal of the season.

For more on the two teams, head over to Aston Villa blog 7500 to Holte and Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History.


Manchester City Vs. Sunderland, 2012 Premier League: City Come Back, But Still Drop Points

Manchester City did an excellent job to fight back and grab a point against a Sunderland team that outplayed them for about 75 minutes, but they're still falling behind Manchester United in the race for the Premier League title. They'll get a little confidence boost from their comeback, but their 3-3 draw still represents two points dropped.

Sebastian Larsson opened the scoring in the 31st minute, aided by some very poor defending. Picking up a ball from Stephane Sessegnon, Larsson was given tons of time and space on the edge of the penalty area to take a shot, and he capitalized by finishing with a well-placed low shot to the near post from 20 yards out.

City would pull level in slightly controversial fashion. Craig Gardner gave away a penalty in the 42nd minute for a foul on Edin Dzeko, but the big striker started going down before there was any contact and initiated the contact himself. Mario Balotelli stepped up and converted the penalty to make it 1-1. They wouldn't stay level long, though. Just before the halftime whistle, in the fourth minute of first half stoppage time, Nicklas Bendtner headed in a Sessegnon cross to give his team the lead.

Sunderland would extend their lead in impressive fashion in the 55th minute, with Larsson adding a second goal. Bendtner provided the assist with a precision low cross that slid perfectly between Joe Hart and the City defense to Larsson, who had a simple tap-in finish.

In a fashion that was very uncharacteristic for Martin O'Neill's sides, they fell apart and allowed City to score twice in less than two minutes to snatch a point from the game and avoid embarrassment. Balotelli scored an absolute stunner in the 85th minute to get city back into the game and Aleksandar Kolarov matched him for quality with a strike from outside the box right after the ensuing kickoff.

Every point is valuable, but City will absolutely see this as two points dropped, despite the excellent comeback. Manchester United currently leads the league by two points with one game in hand.

For more on the two teams, head over to Manchester City blog Bitter And Blue and Sunderland blog Roker Report.

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