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Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010

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Total control: United's Park Ji Sung, left, keeps the ball away from Sunderland's Jordan Cooke on Sunday at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. AP PHOTO

Berbatov strikes twice, United beats Sunderland

MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United consolidated its lead in the Premier League by beating Sunderland 2-0 thanks to two goals by Dimitar Berbatov on Sunday, while Carlos Tevez's brace helped Manchester City move provisionally second with a 3-1 win at Newcastle.

Berbatov nodded Wayne Rooney's lofted cross into the net after five minutes and also hit the post during a first-half onslaught.

Berbatov took his tally for the season to 13 — slightly fortuitously — when a 57th-minute strike deflected off Sunderland defender Anton Ferdinand past goalkeeper Craig Gordon.

"It was a comfortable performance," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "In the first half we were absolutely fantastic and it could have been any score."

Still to be beaten in the league after 17 games, United holds a two-point lead — with two games in hand — over crosstown rival Manchester City, which won 3-1 at Newcastle.

"We are coming into good form," Ferguson said after a third straight win. "We were solid at the back which is a good sign for us."

Arsenal is five points behind United in third having played the same number of matches as the leaders, but the north London club hosts fourth-place Chelsea on Monday night.

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce's hopes of beating Ferguson — his former boss at United — at his 16th attempt were stymied by the absence of seven key players, including Danny Welbeck due to the terms of striker's loan agreement with United and suspended captain Lee Cattermole.

While seventh-place Sunderland had lost only once in its last eight matches, the team was ripped apart by a speedy counterattack that saw United race into the lead.

Ryan Giggs released Wayne Rooney on the edge of the penalty area, and the England striker chipped the ball to Berbatov at the far post.

With Anton Ferdinand, lining up against brother Rio, who was in the United defense, presenting little resistance, Berbatov squeezed a downward header past Gordon at the far post.

City overtook Arsenal in the standings as Gareth Barry's opener and Tevez's double helped Roberto Mancini's side to victory at St. James' Park. Wolverhampton lost 2-1 to Wigan to drop to last place, with West Ham climbing from last on a 3-1 victory at Clint Dempsey's Fulham. Blackburn lost 2-0 at home to Stoke.

Elsewhere in Europe, Kenny Miller scored twice for Rangers, which routed Motherwell 4-1 to maintain its two-point lead over rival Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premier League.

Celtic needed goals in second-half injury time by South Koreans Cha Du Ri and Yeung Ki Sung for a 2-0 victory over St. Johnstone.

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