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Monday, April 4, 2011

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Tip of the hat: United's Wayne Rooney, left, is taken down by West Ham's Gary O'Neil on Saturday at Upton Park in London. Rooney scored a hat trick in United's 4-2 win. AP PHOTO

Rooney leads United comeback as Arsenal, Chelsea lose ground

LONDON (AP) Wayne Rooney's hat trick kept Manchester United on track to win the Premier League with a 4-2 comeback win over West Ham on Saturday, while title contenders Arsenal and Chelsea both dropped points.

Second-place Arsenal could only draw 0-0 with 10-man Blackburn and defending champion Chelsea needed Didier Drogba to equalize for a 1-1 draw at mid-table Stoke as Rooney's first hat trick in 14 months helped the leaders bounce back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to boost their chances of a record 19th English championship.

Liverpool, which shares the record of 18 titles with United, lost 2-1 against a West Bromwich Albion side led by its former manager, Roy Hodgson, while Tottenham's hopes of a second straight top-four finish were hit by a 0-0 draw at Wigan.

Chelsea has eight games left and is 11 points behind United, which has played one more game. Second-place Arsenal is seven points off the lead and also has a game in hand.

United has trailed 2-0 away from home three times this season and salvaged seven points from those matches.

"We played like champions," United manager Alex Ferguson said. "It was a real championship performance as far as I'm concerned."

Two penalty kicks by Mark Noble put relegation-threatened West Ham 2-0 ahead by the 25th minute at Upton Park, but Mexico striker Javier Hernandez replaced Patrice Evra for the second half and fellow forward Dimitar Berbatov went on for Park Ji Sung to help United get back in the game.

Rooney curled in a 65th-minute free kick for just his eighth league goal of the season and struck his 100th in the English top flight eight minutes later, creating room on the edge of the area with one touch and shooting past goalkeeper Robert Green with his next.

The England striker then scored a 79th-minute penalty following Matthew Upson's inadvertent handball and Hernandez scored from Ryan Giggs' cross with six minutes left.

"We don't give up, no matter what the score," Rooney said. "We were brilliant all over the park, but even when we haven't been playing well we have been grinding out results."

United had looked on course for a repeat of November's 4-0 League Cup defeat to West Ham after penalties awarded for a handball by Evra and a trip by Nemanja Vidic on Carlton Cole at the very edge of the area.

Arsenal dominated Blackburn and constantly threatened a breakthrough but Blackburn's defense managed to thwart almost all the Gunners' advances to secure a vital point in the fight against relegation.

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti said this week his side was still in contention for the title but his team fell behind to Stoke in the eighth minute through Jon Walters' breakaway goal.

Drogba headed an equalizer in the 33rd but Stoke could easily have won, hitting the woodwork twice in the second half and forcing several good saves from Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Ancelotti kept Fernando Torres on the bench until the 61st but the Spain striker endured an eighth game without a goal since his £50 million ($80 million) transfer from Liverpool in January.

Milan wins derby

MILAN , Italy (AP) AC Milan put itself in pole position to win Serie A after beating Inter Milan 3-0 and extending its lead over Inter in the standings to five points on Saturday.

"We may be five points ahead, but we have seven games to play and there are 21 points on offer and we can't make any mistakes," Milan coach Massimo Allegri said. "When we are mathematically unreachable we will celebrate, but thinking about those things now is pointless and just wastes energy."

Milan was the better side throughout and managed to completely nullify the influence of Wesley Sneijder and Samuel Eto'o.

Alexandre Pato scored twice, while defender Cristian Chivu was sent off for pulling the Brazilian down as he raced through on goal early in the second half.

Pato's first came in the opening minute, and the second was soon after Inter went down to 10 men. Antonio Cassano made it three with a penalty one minute from time.

Cassano then became the second player to be sent off. He was booked after taking his shirt off in celebration, then fouled Ivan Cordoba to earn a second yellow card and an automatic one-match suspension.

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