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Stuttering starts for Manchester United (7-4), Arsenal (9-4) and Chelsea (9-2), whereas promoted Charlton (500-1) storm to summit after two games and Aston Villa (40-1) make light of Dwight Yorke's pounds 12.5m defection to share leadership with Liverpool by end of month. At Newcastle, Kenny Dalglish is replaced as manager by Ruud Gullit after two games.


Nottingham Forest, minus stay-away Pierre van Hooijdonk, can go top by beating Everton but lose. Christian Gross's demise at Tottenham prompts Leeds-Spurs wrangle over George Graham. Alan Sugar lands the former Arsenal manager. Sheffield Wednesday's Paolo Di Canio (right) lands in trouble for pushing over referee Paul Alcock after sending-off against Arsenal.


David O'Leary is given the Leeds job after Martin O'Neill decides not to walk out on Leicester. Southampton double their points tally by drawing at Arsenal. Villa's all-English team continue to set the pace from the Double winners and United, while Michael Owen, recalled by Liverpool after substitute duty, strikes four times against freefalling Forest.


Villa sign pounds 5.75m Dion Dublin, who promptly scores five in his first two games as John Gregory's team set a club record unbeaten start of 12 matches. But the leaders' defence - six goals conceded in the first 12 games - is holed by Liverpool in 4-2 home defeat. At the bottom, Southampton defeat and leapfrog Blackburn, who dismiss Roy Hodgson.


Successive games against United, Chelsea and Arsenal earn Villa four points and help them end the year on top. Duncan Ferguson replaces Christian Dailly as most expensive Scot ever after pounds 7m move from Everton to Newcastle. Leeds join the pack pursuing Villa and Blackburn revive under Brian Kidd, with pounds 7.25m Kevin Davies finally breaking his scoring duck.


Chelsea edge past fading Villa, where Stan Collymore goes absent with "stress" as former partner Yorke hits hat-trick in United's 6-2 romp at Leicester. Gianluca Vialli's team end the month losing at Arsenal - their first defeat since August - and United take up the running for first time by winning at Charlton. Wimbledon pay pounds 7.5m for West Ham's John Hartson (above).


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scores four in last 10 minutes as substitute in United's 8-1 humbling of Forest at City Ground. Andy Cole heads equaliser as Alex Ferguson's team draw at home to Arsenal, who follow up with a 5-0 demolition of Leicester to maintain their hopes of retaining the championship. Successive home wins renew Charlton's hopes of staying up.


Vialli concedes title after Chelsea's home defeat by West Ham. Emmanuel Petit receives his third red card of the season in win at Everton and threatens to quit English football despite Arsenal win which confirms the Gunners as the main threat to United. Southampton end month in highest place of season, third from bottom and closing on Blackburn, Everton and Coventry.


Leeds' seven-match winning streak ends in draw with Liverpool. Villa end run of two points from 27 by beating Southampton, who then come from 3-1 down to hold Blackburn. Arsenal victories by 5-0 and 6-1 erode United's goal-difference advantage before United's draw at Leeds leaves Gunners a point clear. Forest's demotion confirmed.


Chelsea book third place and Champions' League spot. Southampton ensure survival at Charlton's expense with last-day success. Leeds dent Arsenal chances with late midweek winner only for United's draw at Blackburn - which saw Rovers relegated - to take the title race to the wire. Spurs' lead at Old Trafford fires Arsenal hopes but United hit back for decisive victory.

Phil Shaw