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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011

United beats Stoke to move three clear

LONDON (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nani set each other up for goals as Manchester United beat Stoke 2-1 to go three points clear at the top of the Premier League on Tuesday.

A back-flick from Hernandez put United in front and, after Dean Whitehead headed Stoke level, the Mexico forward fed Nani for a well-placed winner.

"Stoke are such a determined bunch of lads — they don't make it easy for anyone, breaking them down," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "Thankfully Nani produced a fantastic goal . . . and from then we were solid."

Unbeaten all season, United not only has a three-point lead but also a game in hand over Manchester City, which was at third-place Arsenal on Wednesday.

In Tuesday's other matches, Birmingham and Fulham climbed out of the relegation zone with victories.

Birmingham won for the first time away this season after Scott Dann's 89th minute goal secured a 2-1 victory at Blackpool, while Fulham beat West Bromwich 3-0.

In the title race, United has now collected 19 points from a possible 21 in its last seven matches.

The victory in United's 20th match of the league season was secured without striker Wayne Rooney, who injured his ankle at the weekend, and center back Rio Ferdinand, who was rested ahead of Sunday's F.A. Cup match against Liverpool.

Hernandez, whose double clinched a 2-1 victory at Stoke in October, was on target again against the team after 27 minutes at Old Trafford.

The offseason recruit nipped in front of former Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross at the near post and reacted quickly as Nani whipped in a low cross. Letting the ball run behind him, he quickly flicked back his right leg and turned it into a goal that Asmir Begovic thought he had covered.

But Hernandez's eight goal of the season and his second in four days was canceled out five minutes into the second half when Stoke scored for the first time at United since 1980. Whitehead nipped between Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra to head home Tuncay Sanli's cross unchallenged past Tomasz Kuszczak, who was filling in for Edwin van der Sar in the United goal.

United, though, was back in front in the 62nd when Hernandez found space on the edge of the penalty area to pick out Nani, who turned the ball away from Danny Collins and struck past Begovic.

Ancelotti 'lucky man'

LONDON (AP) Carlo Ancelotti says he is lucky to still be Chelsea manager following the team's poor run.

The Premier League champions have taken just 10 points from their last 10 matches and slipped from top to fifth in two months.

"I am a lucky man," Ancelotti was quoted as telling British media Tuesday. "I understand that a lot of coaches are sacked with results like these."

Ancelotti won the league and F.A. Cup in May at the end of his first season. But after Chelsea conceded a late equalizer to Aston Villa on Sunday, the team goes to Wolverhampton on Wednesday nine points behind leader Manchester United.

The Italian wants to be judged at the end of the season by owner Roman Abramovich.

"When you go to a restaurant, you have to pay the bill when finish your meal," he said. "It's the same here. We have to pay the bill at the end of the season. At the end the club can judge me.

"The best food would be the Champions League. I've tasted it sometimes and it's good. . . . When the Champions League comes back, we need to have a squad without injuries."

John Rooney to MLS

NEW YORK (AP) Wayne Rooney's younger brother John has signed with Major League Soccer and will be eligible for selection by clubs at next week's draft.

The 20-year-old forward will be at the MLS trials from Jan. 7-11 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

However, MLS spokesman Will Kuhns said Tuesday that Rooney has already signed a contract with the league. In U.S. soccer, players' contracts are with the league, rather than the individual club.



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