The Premiership: Chelsea high and mighty

Joy for Joe and Jose as 10-man Palace frustrate furious Fergie
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The Independent Online

If anyone at Carrow Road yesterday had asked "Where are you?" the question might have been directed at the Norwich City defence as Chelsea scored twice in eight second-half minutes to set up a 3-1 victory. And any imitation of Delia Smith's other cry last week of "Let's be 'aving you" would have been a Chelsea fan demanding that the Premiership trophy be handed over right now to Jose Mourinho's side.

If anyone at Carrow Road yesterday had asked "Where are you?" the question might have been directed at the Norwich City defence as Chelsea scored twice in eight second-half minutes to set up a 3-1 victory. And any imitation of Delia Smith's other cry last week of "Let's be 'aving you" would have been a Chelsea fan demanding that the Premiership trophy be handed over right now to Jose Mourinho's side.

Manchester United's failure to beat 10-man Crystal Palace in a goalless encounter at Selhurst Park means that Chelsea are now eight points clear at the top and needing to win seven of their remaining 10 games to make absolutely certain of taking their first title for 50 years.

The first part of that decisive double that brought Chelsea victory was a first Premiership goal for Mateja Kezman, but if Norwich could castigate themselves for being the first side to let the striker score in the League, they at least had the satisfaction of that rarest of feats - scoring past Petr Cech. Leon McKenzie claimed that honour after Joe Cole had put Chelsea ahead, but when Ricardo Carvalho netted his first goal for the club, the game was well and truly up for Norwich.

United seemed to be making second place in the Premiership their own with a string of successes that included bringing Arsenal's unbeaten run to a shuddering halt. But yesterday they ran into an indefatigable Crystal Palace side. By the end Sir Alex Ferguson had Rooney, Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy and Giggs on the pitch, but none of that illustrious group could find the touch to bring United victory. The referee, Mark Clattenburg, came in for some stick from Roy Keane and Ferguson over a disallowed goal, but at least no one took out their frustrations on the home fans on the 10th anniversary of Eric Cantona's infamous impromptu demonstration of the art of kung fu.

Even after the Greek Vassilis Lakis contrived to collect two yellow cards in the space of five second-half minutes, United could find no way through. And the arrival of Wayne Rooney, the scorer of six goals in his previous seven games, did not help, either. The England striker, who was booked, set up Van Nistelrooy but the Dutchman missed; Ryan Giggs fired wide from a free-kick; Van Nistelrooy missed again; and Giggs followed up Rooney's shot only to miss from close range. It was enough to drive anyone to drink.

It hardly helped that at the same time Thierry Henry was becoming the toast of Highbury with a goalscoring master class. His hat-trick helped Arsenal to sink Portsmouth 3-0 and close up on United, who are now only two points ahead in the race for second place.

Henry's first hat-trick of the season could hardly have been more timely as Arsenal face the vital second leg of the Champions' League tie against Bayern Munich, who beat them 3-1 in the first leg. His first, shortly before half-time, went in off the Portsmouth captain Arjan De Zeeuw, but his second, after the break, was vintage Arsenal as Patrick Vieira surged forward and slipped the ball into Henry's path for the Frenchman to dink it over the goalkeeper with his left foot. Henry's last was a free-kick curled right-footed from the edge of the area.

Intoxicating stuff, but it looks as if it is Chelsea who are heading for the champagne celebration

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