Treatment of Gareth Bale 'unfair' says Andre Villas-Boas after Tottenham winger is booked yet again for diving

Welshman appeared to go down easily under Craig Gardner's challenge

Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas was quick to defend Gareth Bale after the Wales winger was again booked for diving in Saturday's 2-1 win at Sunderland.

The 23-year-old was yellow-carded by referee Martin Atkinson nine minutes from time after going down under Craig Gardner's challenge, and will miss tomorrow's clash with Reading as a result of his fifth domestic caution.

Villas Boas admitted some of the player's previous bookings had been warranted but insisted he had been hard done to on Wearside.

"It's difficult for the referees - there's no question about it. But today was a big mistake," the Portuguese said after the game.

"Sometimes we have to give a little bit of comfort and credit to the player because he is being chased now and it's a little bit unfair what he is going through. It's just a consequence of his pace, his ability, his skill."

Manchester United retained their seven-point lead at the Barclays Premier League summit thanks to a 2-0 win over West Brom at Old Trafford.

United left-back Patrice Evra believes his team have defended better this season than they did last even though Saturday's clean sheet was only their fourth in the league this term.

"The confidence of keeping a clean sheet is good," the Frenchman said. "I am a defender. I don't like to concede goals. But I am more bothered about winning games and I know when we have a big game the defence will be strong.

"Maybe it sounds bizarre but I feel we were weaker defensively last year even if this season we have conceded more goals."

Second-placed Manchester City stayed in touch by edging Norwich 4-3 at Carrow Road despite the dismissal of midfielder Samir Nasri for pushing his head into Canaries defender Sebastien Bassong.

"We have won two games now when we had only 10 players, also at West Brom, and that should say we are a strong team," City boss Roberto Mancini said. "The season is long, and we still have a chance."

Theo Walcott netted a hat-trick as Arsenal emerged 7-3 winners in a remarkable encounter with Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium in the late kick-off.

Aston Villa's miserable recent run continued with a 3-0 loss at home to Wigan, meaning Paul Lambert's side have conceded 15 goals without reply in their last three games.

Lambert called for a united front after the game, saying: "All we can do is do our very best for this football club. The fans will go away hurt like everybody else - so will we. I know that for a fact. But we have to stick together. That's important."

Villa would have fallen into the bottom three were it not for a superb comeback from 10-man Stoke. The Potters trailed 3-1 at home to Southampton and lost Steven Nzonzi to a red card, but nicked a point thanks to Cameron Jerome's stoppage-time strike.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Swansea's impressive campaign continued with a 2-1 win at Fulham while Reading boosted their survival hopes with a 1-0 triumph over West Ham.