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Monday, March 21, 2011

United widens advantage at top of Premier League

LONDON (AP) Manchester United moved five points clear at the top of the Premier League thanks to its late winner in a 1-0 victory against Bolton on Saturday while second-place Arsenal only managed a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion.

News photo
Come together: Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny, left, collides with West Brom's Jerome Thomas on Saturday in West Bromwich, England. The match ended a 2-2 draw. AP PHOTO

United was down to 10 men following Jonny Evans' sending off in the 76th minute when substitute Dimitar Berbatov capitalized on Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen's error to grab the winning goal in the 88th minute for his league-high 20th of the season.

Arsenal, which has a game in hand, scored twice in the final 20 minutes — through Andrey Arshavin and Robin van Persie — to claim a point at the Hawthorns but lost ground in its title challenge.

Fifth-place Tottenham's push for a top-four finish was held up by drawing 0-0 at home to West Ham, which climbed out of the relegation zone with its point.

Wigan won 2-1 at home to Birmingham, which dropped to second from bottom, but remained in last place by a point. Wolverhampton stayed in the relegation area despite its 1-0 victory at Midlands rival Aston Villa.

In a congested lower half of the table, three points separate the bottom eight teams.

In other results Saturday, Everton beat Fulham 2-1, Blackburn scored a late equalizer to draw 2-2 at home to Blackpool and Stoke thrashed midtable rival Newcastle 4-0.

United manager Alex Ferguson watched his side get out of jail from the stands, as he was serving the first match of a five-game touchline ban for criticizing a referee earlier this month.

Evans, back in United's team after injury, was shown a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden, who had to be carried off on a stretcher with a deep gash in his left knee.

Matt Taylor then missed a close-range header that would have put the visitors in front and Berbatov made him pay, taking advantage of Jaaskelainen's inability to hold a long shot from Nani to slot the rebound into an empty net.

United avoided losing a third straight league game for the first time since December 2001.

"It wasn't a 100 percent top performance today but we never gave in," Ferguson said. "That's the fantastic character of this club. There is no other club in the country that has got that character. We're fantastic at getting something out of a dead situation, a lost situation. We did that today, full marks to them."

Arsenal gave renewed hope to Manchester City and Chelsea, who were set to play each other at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, of a second-place finish by dropping two more points in the title race.

Steven Reid and Peter Odemwingie scored either side of the break to give West Brom a two-goal lead, but Arshavin started Arsenal's comeback in the 70th minute and Van Persie equalized eight minutes later.

"I am disappointed we dropped two points, but it was psychologically important for the rest of the season to show character and not lose the game," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

City is five points behind Arsenal, with Chelsea a further two back. Tottenham is two points behind Chelsea.

Tottenham's disappointment at only drawing with West Ham would have been slightly tempered by the news hours after the final whistle that star winger Gareth Bale had signed a 4 1/2-year contract with the club.

Stojkovic to lead team

Kyodo News

Nagoya Grampus' Dragan Stojkovic will manage the J. League select team that will play against Asian champion Japan in next week's charity match to aid victims of the earthquake that has ravaged the eastern part of the country.

The J. League announced Sunday that Stojkovic, named the 2010 coach of the year after leading Grampus to their first league championship, will pick his team for the March 29 game at Osaka's Nagai Stadium on Tuesday.

Stojkovic is currently out of the country with all J. League matches postponed until mid-April at the earliest.

"It's an absolute honor and privilege to be chosen to coach the J. League team for this charity match in Osaka," Stojkovic said through a statement.

"I know it must have been extremely difficult deciding whether to go through with this game or not, so I want to extend my full cooperation in making it a success.

"We are in sad, trying times right now, but we need to be strong and overcome this tragedy. I guarantee that Japan, the beautiful country I love, will be back on its feet.

"Everything is difficult, everything is possible."

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