LONDON: The battle for the two outstanding Champions League spots – assuming the Manchester duo will take the top two – tightened after Arsenal and Chelsea drew 0-0 in north London while Newcastle trounced Stoke City 3-0.
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo made eight changes from the side who had secured a 1-0 home win over Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final. One extra complication, in the Premier background, is that if Chelsea win the Champions League but finish fifth in the league then the fourth-placed team will go ‘only’ into the Europa League.
Arsenal had a luckless day. England winger Theo Walcott picked up a hamstring strain which will rule him out of the remainder of the season and they hit the posts twice in the first half as they attemped to regain momentum after Monday’s defeat by Wigan.
Meanwhile Newcastle moved up into fourth place after claiming a convincing victory over Stoke thanks to two goals from Yohan Cabaye. He fired Newcastle in front after 14 minutes, converting a rebound after a Papiss Cisse header hit the bar. The Frenchman then turned provider four minutes later for Cisse and completed the scoring after 57 minutes on an assist from Demba Ba.
Tottenham slipped down to fifth, three points the Magpies, after yet another disappointing defeat, this time by 1-0 away to Queens Park Rangers. Adel Taarabt, once of Spurs, scored the only goal with a 24th-minute free kick. He was also sent off for a second yellow card 16 minutes from time but disjointed Tottenham could not capitalise.
At the other end of the table, Blackburn’s hopes of escaping the bottom three were improved by a 2-0 win over Norwich at Ewood Park. Ayegbeni Yakubu hit the post for the home side after 38 minutes before Morten Gamst Pedersen set up a goal for Mauro Formica three minutes later. Junior Hoilett added another four minutes into the second half but not enough to silence chants from fans demanding the departure of owner Venky’s.
Blackburn remained in the bottom three but climbed above Bolton who were held 1-1 by Swansea. The Swans took just six minutes to break the deadlock through Scott Sinclair but Bolton were level after 14 minutes when Chris Eagles provided a left-footed finish to Martin Petrov’s cross.
Wigan’s survival hopes suffered a setback with a 2-1 defeat against Fulham at Craven Cottage. The Latics, seeking a fifth win in six league matches, went ahead through Emerson Boyce in the 58th-minute. Fulham hit back one minute later through Pavel Pogrebnyak before a header from Philippe Senderos secured the win in the last minute.
Aston Villa and Sunderland drew 0-0 at Villa Park. Nicklas Bendtner had the ball in the net for Sunderland after 75 minutes but was deemed offside, although replays suggested otherwise. Craig Gardner was then sent off for the Black Cats in the final minute.
Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill was booed by Villa fans still upset by the manner of his surprise departure just before the start of last season.
** Results in the Championship [second division] mean Reading will go up as champions.
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