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Monday, March 29, 2010

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Goal machine: Chelsea's Frank Lampard celebrates one of his four goals against Aston Villa on Saturday. AP PHOTO

United, Chelsea surge away in title race as Birmingham holds Arsenal

LONDON (AP) Manchester United retained top spot in the Premier League by routing Bolton 4-0 on Saturday after Chelsea thrashed Aston Villa 7-1 to remain within a point of the defending champions.

Dimitar Berbatov scored twice either side of Jlloyd Samuel's own goal and substitute Darron Gibson's late strike to keep United on course for a fourth straight title.

But Chelsea has a superior goal difference after an emphatic display against Villa, which saw Frank Lampard score four to become the club's third-highest all-time scorer with 151.

"I'm very proud. I've passed Peter Osgood (on the list) — I took a few more games, but I'm very honored to be among those sort of names," Lampard said.

Third-place Arsenal, though, slipped four points off the pace after being held to a 1-1 draw by Birmingham.

Tottenham strengthened its grip on fourth place as Peter Crouch and Niko Kranjcar scored in a 2-0 victory against former club Portsmouth, which is bottom and doomed to relegation.

The other two teams in the drop zone are Burnley and Hull. Hull moved level with West Ham by beating Fulham 2-0 as the 17th-place Hammers lost 1-0 at Stoke.

Wolverhampton went five points clear of the bottom three by drawing 0-0 with Everton.

At Stamford Bridge, Lampard netted his first after 15 minutes by turning Florent Malouda's low cross past Brad Friedel at the far post.

But Chelsea's Yuri Zhirkov allowed John Carew to ghost into space at the far post to meet Ashley Young's curling cross and level for Villa.

Zhirkov made amends just before halftime when he earned a penalty after being fouled by Villa defender James Collins.

Lampard converted the spot kick and there was no way back for Villa as Chelsea added five more after the break in an ominous prelude to their F.A. Cup semifinal meeting in two weeks.

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