United move level after Chelsea slip-up

Premier League Round-Up
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Manchester United moved level on points with Chelsea at the top of the Premier League today when the defending champions lost 1-0 at Birmingham.

While Patrice Evra and Javier Hernandez continued United's unbeaten start with a goal each in a 2-0 win over Wigan, Chelsea conceded a 17th-minute goal to Lee Bowyer to lose consecutive league matches for the first time since the end of the 2005-06 season.

Arsenal threw away a two-goal lead and a chance to take sole possession of top spot when it lost 3-2 to Tottenham, 17 years after it last lost at home to its fierce north London rival.

Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Younes Kaboul ended Spurs' embarrassing 68-match run without an away win against the established powers of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Arsenal dropped to third place but Tottenham remained outside the Champions League qualifying berths in sixth place. Bolton took fourth place on goal difference from Manchester City and Spurs with a 5-1 hammering of Newcastle.

"If you had said at the start of the day, 'would you take being joint top of the league,' I would have said 'yes,"' United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We know that come the second half of the season we will definitely get better and now we are joint top with Chelsea."

United could easily have trailed at Old Trafford before Evra headed in a 45th-minute cross by Park Ji-sung past goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi for his first goal in 3 1/2 years.

Wayne Rooney's appearance as a 57th-minute substitute lifted United and the match swung further toward his team when Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega were sent off within three minutes of each other — the Wigan captain for a second yellow card and Rodallega for a two-footed foul on Rafael da Silva.

Hernandez came on in the 65th and scored his seventh goal of the season with a diving header from Rafael's 77th-minute cross.

Rooney was greeted mostly by cheers in his first appearance since limping out of an Oct. 16 match against Bolton with an ankle injury, although a few fans jeered the England striker following last month's quickly retracted threat to quit United.

Chelsea looked on course to bounce back from last week's 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland when Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba had early chances.

But Bowyer scored from Cameron Jerome's knock down of a right-wing cross before goalkeeper Ben Foster and the frame of the goal kept Chelsea out for the rest of the match.

Foster followed his early save against Drogba with a string of stops, thwarting Ashley Cole, Drogba, Kalou and Branislav Ivanovic.

Drogba almost equalized in the 38th but headed Florent Malouda's cross against the bar.

United and Chelsea have 28 points from 14 matches, two more than an Arsenal side that lost a game it dominated until halftime.

Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh put Arsenal 2-0 ahead but Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Younes Kaboul scored to end Spurs' embarrassing 68-match run without an away win against the established powers of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

"I wasn't here for 65 or 66 of those games, so I can't take the blame for those ones," Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said. "But we can give anyone a game. To come here and turn the tide as we did today is a fantastic result."

Bale got Tottenham's first goal, and his ninth of the season, in the 50th. The winger raced from left to right to collect a pass by Van der Vaart and shoot low past Lukasz Fabianski.

Luka Modric then drew an unnecessary foul from Alex Song for a free kick by Van der Vaart, which Cesc Fabregas needlessly blocked with his forearm to concede a penalty. Van der Vaart scored the 67th-minute kick for his eighth goal of the season and first away from White Hart Lane.

With five minutes left, Laurent Koscielny brought down the charging Bale on the right with a foul 40 meters (yards) from goal. The free kick sailed into the area and Kaboul leaped to head past Fabianski and hand Arsenal a third home defeat — one more than in the whole of last season.

"Three home defeats are three too many," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "What is worrying for me is that we had an opportunity to go top of the league and when you have to deliver, we can't."

Tottenham is now just four points behind Arsenal but Bolton has a superior goal difference after another two goals by Johan Elmander, two penalties by Kevin Davies and an effort by South Korea midfielder Lee Chung-yong.

Elmander shares the lead in the Premier League scoring charts with eight goals, the same as Andy Carroll — the scorer of Newcastle's lone strike.

"His performance was outstanding," Bolton manager Owen Coyle said. "We're enjoying the wins but the only league table I've ever looked at is the one after the season is finished."

City could overtake Bolton if it beats Fulham on Sunday, when Blackburn hosts Aston Villa.