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Friday, Nov. 30, 2012

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Still in front: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney is tackled by West Ham's James Tomkins during Premier League action at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. Man United won 1-0. AFP-JIJI

Man United remain atop table with victory over West Ham


LONDON — Robin van Persie preserved Manchester United's narrow lead in the Premier League with the quickest goal of the season, scoring after 32 seconds in a 1-0 victory over West Ham on Wednesday.

Defending champion Manchester City remained a point behind its neighbor with a 2-0 victory at Wigan on goals by Mario Balotelli and James Milner, but Rafa Benitez's tough start as interim Chelsea manager continued with a 0-0 home draw against Fulham.

The point at least lifted Chelsea into third place above West Bromwich Albion, which lost 3-1 at Swansea to end a four-match winning run in the league.

Tottenham climbed to fifth place by beating Liverpool 2-1, with Spurs winger Gareth Bale scoring at both ends, while Arsenal was held to a 1-1 tie at Everton after also taking the lead after less than a minute through Theo Walcott.

Stoke came from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1, a fourth straight loss for the visitors, while Mark Clattenburg — the referee at the center of recent racism accusations — made his return to the middle in Southampton's 1-1 draw at home to Norwich.

Benitez was greeted with roars of disapproval prior to his first match in charge — a 0-0 home draw with Man City on Sunday — but fans gave him a less hostile reception three days on.

Instead, there was a general feeling of apathy around Stamford Bridge which lingered throughout a listless encounter.

Chelsea has clearly improved defensively under the pragmatic Benitez, but its attacking spark that marked its bright start to the season has disappeared.

Boos rang out at the final whistle, with Chelsea having created few clear-cut chances in front of watching owner Roman Abramovich.

"It's still a long way to go. We have to keep going. We'll have chances," Benitez said.

The Spaniard needs a slice of luck that Van Persie was granted at Old Trafford, with the Netherlands striker's shot looping up off James Collins and over stranded goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen for his ninth goal of the campaign.

"We got a great start," said Ferguson, whose side has more often than not conceded first this season. "You hope to go on from a start like that and some of our football was very good, but we never quite finished them off."

For City, it was the complete opposite, starting sluggishly at Wigan but ending well to maintain its unbeaten start. The champions' goals came in the space of four minutes, with Balotelli marking his return to the starting lineup by burying a loose ball in the 69th.

Milner, a second-half substitute, wrapped up victory in the 72nd, only to go off injured before the final whistle with a hamstring problem.

Goal line tech test near


RIO DE JANEIRO — Did the ball cross the line?

It's a question which soccer fans have been asking at least since the 1966 World Cup final, when England striker Geoff Hurst's extra-time goal against Germany was given by a Swiss referee on the advice of his Soviet linesman.

World governing body FIFA has been trying out two technologies and will put them to the tournament test at the upcoming Club World Cup starting Dec. 6 in Japan with a view to using the most accurate version at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Two systems — one German, one English — have been certified by FIFA and are now vying to be used at Brazil 2014.

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