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Monday, Dec. 31, 2012

United cruises to win

Kagawa returns as leaders beat West Brom at Old Trafford

AP, Kyodo

LONDON — Manchester United will head into 2013 with a seven-point cushion atop the Premier League, with another stunning goal from Robin van Persie sealing a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on the highest-scoring day of the season.

News photo
Follow the leaders: Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa (right) tussles with West Bromwich Albion's Peter Odemwingie during United's 2-0 win on Saturday. KYODO

Second-place Manchester City held on to beat Norwich 4-3 with 10 men to stay in contention in the defense of its title, while Arsenal hammered Newcastle 7-3 on a final Saturday of 2012 that brought 35 goals in eight matches.

United was more than content with scoring two of them. Gareth McAuley's early own goal and a league-high 14th strike of the campaign by substitute Van Persie in the final minute earned the team a seventh straight home win, leaving City with a mountain to climb to catch its fierce rival.

"We're in a good position. We're halfway there," United manager Alex Ferguson said.

Shinji Kagawa marked his return from a prolonged injury layoff by helping create United's first goal.

"It's important to be able to show what I can do. I need to be hungry," said Kagawa, who was slotted in the hole behind Danny Welbeck. "I'll earn more trust if I do my job."

Reigning champions City withstood the first-half dismissal of playmaker Samir Nasri for an apparent headbutt to hold off Norwich, with Edin Dzeko (2) and Sergio Aguero answering manager Roberto Mancini's call for more goals from his strikers.

"Today we showed we are there for the title," Mancini said.

Tottenham came from behind to beat Sunderland 2-1 and move provisionally third — a point ahead of Chelsea, which was set to visit Everton on Sunday. Arsenal is fifth, two points further behind.

Spurs' win wasn't without controversy, though, with winger Gareth Bale booked for diving for the third time this season — and fifth time since the start of last season.

"If people kick me, I'm going to go down," Bale said in protest, despite going down easily this time when Sunderland defender Craig Gardner put his arm across Bale's chest. "People keep saying I'm diving but it doesn't bother me whatsoever."

At the other end of the standings, Reading climbed three points clear of last-place Queens Park Rangers by beating West Ham 1-0 thanks to Pavel Pogrebnyak's fifth-minute goal. It was only Reading's second win of the season.

Southampton slipped into relegation zone despite drawing 3-3 at Stoke, which equalized in the last minute through a wondrous goal by Cameron Jerome, because Wigan piled on the misery for Aston Villa by winning 3-0 at Villa Park.

Villa has now conceded 15 goals — and failed to score — in three matches over the festive period to lie just a point and a place above the bottom three.

Fulham's poor form continued with a 2-1 home loss to Swansea, leaving the hosts with just one win in 12 league games.

United's latest win at Old Trafford lacked the drama and controversy of the last-gasp 4-3 victory over Newcastle on Wednesday, with driving rain and a boggy pitch making for tough conditions.

The goals came at either end of the match, with McAuley deflecting in Ashley Young's low cross in the ninth minute and Van Persie coming off the bench to curl home the clinching goal in the 90th minute.

"He (Van Persie) changed the game for us," Ferguson said.

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