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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

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Face the music: Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney scores against Everton during their match on Sunday at Old Trafford. The matched ended in a 4-4 draw. AP

Title race blown open

Everton rallies to draw United; City relegates Wolves

AP

LONDON — The Premier League title race took an unexpected twist on Sunday when Manchester City beat Wolverhampton 2-0 to move within three points of leader Manchester United, which blew a two-goal lead to draw 4-4 with Everton.

With the two rivals meeting at Etihad Stadium next and City having a much better goal difference than United, the destiny of the title is back in both teams' hands in what is proving a thrilling climax to the season.

"It's a derby of amazing proportions — probably the most important derby game in my time," said United manager Alex Ferguson, who took over in 1986.

United appeared to be coasting to an eighth straight home win when Wayne Rooney scored his second goal to put the champions 4-2 ahead at Old Trafford.

However, poor defending allowed Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar to score goals in the final seven minutes and earn Everton a point.

City took full advantage hours later at Molineux, with goals by Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri ensuring Wolves became the first team to be relegated from the top flight.

"The United game's in our sights," City goalkeeper Joe Hart said. "We feel ready and are firing in the goals."

In the day's other match, Liverpool's poor league form continued with a 1-0 home loss to West Bromwich Albion, with Peter Odemwingie grabbing the winner against the run of play in the 75th minute.

Liverpool, which had 28 shots at Anfield, is languishing in eighth place — two points behind Merseyside rival Everton with four matches left.

United still holds the initiative although City's superb form at home — where it has won 16 of its 17 matches — gives Roberto Mancini's team a great chance of leap-frogging its greatest rival. City currently has a goal difference advantage of six.

"I think they have a bigger chance than us," Mancini said. "But we have another chance."

Rooney closed to within one goal of Arsenal striker Robin van Persie in the scoring charts after taking his tally for the campaign to 26 and also became the club's fourth-top scorer of all time, taking his overall tally to 180 to overtake George Best and Dennis Viollet. But that will be of little consolation to the England striker after the dramatic comeback of his former club.

Rooney canceled out Jelavic's 33rd-minute opener just before halftime before Danny Welbeck and Nani, who was recalled in place of Ashley Young, scored goals in a four-minute span to put United 3-1 up.

Marouane Fellaini made it 3-2 with a 67th-minute volley, but United seemed to be cruising again when Rooney linked well with Welbeck in the 69th to restore the two-goal cushion.

There was still time for Jelavic to thrash in a low finish after a hopeful ball forward failed to get headed clear and Pienaar leveled with an 85th-minute finish from Fellaini's cross.

"It's a throwaway, an absolute giveaway," Ferguson said. "We just needed to see the game out and it's a travesty because some of our football was fantastic.

"We've given them (City) the initiative, no question about that."

Like Rooney, Aguero has come into some timely scoring form at the business end of the season and his fine strike against Wolves, coming after he was found by a superb pass from Gael Clichy, was his 22nd of the campaign.

City came under increasing pressure in the second half as the hosts looked for goals to preserve their topflight status at least for another week, but Nasri settled any nerves with a low finish following good work by Carlos Tevez.

"It's a very difficult day, a raw day for me, the staff, the players, everyone connected with the club," interim Wolves manager Terry Connor said. "Over 38 games we've proved not good enough to stay in the Premier League."

Wolves' three-year stay in the Premier League was always likely to end after winning just one game since the start of December. The team still has three games left but is 11 points adrift of fourth-bottom Wigan.

Liverpool has won the League Cup and reached the final of the F.A. Cup last weekend, yet its league form — especially at Anfield — has been bitterly disappointing.

Again the Reds couldn't convert their dominance into goals, hitting the post twice, and were caught with Odemwingie's sucker-punch after Glen Johnson was robbed of possession by Youssouf Mulumbu.



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