Carrick praises in-form Fletcher

England star Michael Carrick hailed Manchester United team-mate Darren Fletcher as one of the best midfielders in the land after his fine finish began a 3-0 defeat of Everton.

United kept the pressure on Barclays Premier League leaders Chelsea in Saturday's evening kick-off at Old Trafford.

Scotland captain Fletcher, not so long ago vilified by his own supporters, arrowed a volley into the top corner for the first of three goals past Tim Howard.

"Darren is one of the best midfielders around at the moment," said Carrick. "His performances are at the highest level and it is great to play alongside him. He really is on top of his game."

Another international midfielder, England's Joe Cole, netted the final goal in Chelsea's 4-0 stroll against Wolves, his first in 13 months, and is now intent on challenging Deco for a permanent role in the side.

The win set a new club record of 12 consecutive wins and their 10th clean sheet at home equalled a best set in 1927.

"I love it in the middle," said Cole. "I think the main focus is to perform, wherever you are playing.

"Good players can play in several positions and I found that I had the ability to play right, left or centre and that's because I can do a broad range of things for the team - cross the ball, pass it through the middle, beat a man.

"Because of these things I have tended to get moved around a little bit. But now I've got back in the centre, which is more natural to me, I'm hoping to cement that place and make it my own."

Manchester City manager Mark Hughes believes it is a sign of how far his emerging team have come that they left Anfield disappointed not to have defeated top-four rivals Liverpool after a 2-2 draw.

"In the past a City team would have been delighted with scoring two at Anfield and getting a point," said Hughes, after Emmanuel Adebayor and Steven Ireland overturned the hosts' lead in the second half before Yossi Benayoun completed the scoring. "Now we are disappointed with that, it shows how far we have come."

Adebayor added: "We're nearly there. Leading 2-1 at Anfield is not something everyone will do, but we have to believe that we can finish games off, and if we do we can believe that we can finish in the top four."

Sunderland added the scalp of Arsenal to that of Liverpool earlier this month with Darren Bent once again the matchwinner at the Stadium of Light.

It left Gunners boss Arsene Wenger conceding the hosts showed more hunger than his one-dimensional side.

"We chose the easy part of the game, that is to always come to the ball, and not to expose them with our pace in behind," bemoaned Wenger. "In football if you want to score goals, you have to go behind the defenders.

"I didn't feel really under threat from Sunderland. If you look at what they created, you would be surprised how little they created.

"But they took their chance because they had someone who wanted it more than us."

Jimmy Bullard's influence on Hull showed itself in only his second full game for the East Yorkshire club as a deflected free-kick and a penalty helped overturn an early two-goal deficit before fellow strugglers West Ham levelled things at 3-3.

Hull manager Phil Brown praised the contribution of the Tigers' record £5million signing.

"I take it back to when we were in the Championship and we brought in Jay-Jay Okocha," Brown said. "Jimmy is not Jay-Jay Okocha by any stretch of the imagination, but he is the same kind of character.

"He brings a belief even in tight situations and a trust, and I think that trust is spreading.

"That's five goals in two games now and hopefully that belief with the ball is coming back."

Elsewhere, Birmingham beat Fulham 1-0 to go level with their opponents on 15 points, while fierce rivals Aston Villa salvaged a point with a late Emile Heskey header at Burnley.

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