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Chelsea drop points, United march on
December 26, 2007 20:49 IST
Last Updated: December 26, 2007 23:43 IST
Manchester United turned up the heat in the Premier League title chase with a 4-0 victory at Sunderland on Wednesday after Chelsea dropped points in an astonishing 4-4 home draw with Aston Villa.
Champions United were a class above their hapless opponents with two goals from Louis Saha and one each for Wayne Rooney [Images] and the country's leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo [Images] allowing them to cruise above Arsenal with 45 points.
Arsenal can reclaim pole position with victory at Portsmouth in a late kickoff.
The real holiday fireworks were at Stamford Bridge where Gareth Barry's last-gasp penalty gave 10-man Villa a deserved share of the spoils against a Chelsea side who ended up with nine men after two red cards.
Chelsea have 38 points, two more than Liverpool who moved fourth after a late goal from captain Steven Gerrard earned a 2-1 victory at bottom club Derby County 2-1. Everton stayed in touch with the top four after beating Bolton Wanderers 2-0 at Goodison Park.
Chelsea, already without John Terry and Didier Drogba, face a mounting personnel crisis after midfielder Frank Lampard [Images] joined the injured list after limping out of his side's draw with a thigh injury.
Defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Ashley Cole also face suspension after being sent off after a double from Andriy Shevchenko and a goal from Alex had turned around a 2-0 deficit to put them 3-2 up.
In an action-packed final 20 minutes Martin Laursen made it 3-3, substitute Michael Ballack [Images] appeared to have sealed it for Chelsea with a sublime free kick before Cole was red-carded for deliberate handball and Barry drove in Villa's equaliser.
Villa had taken a deserved 2-0 lead with two goals from Shaun Maloney, the second a bad mistake by goalkeeper Petr Cech, as Chelsea's near four-year unbeaten run at home looked to be coming to an end.
Chelsea got a lifeline on the stroke of halftime when Zat Knight bundled Ballack over in the area and was shown a red card before Shevchenko fired home the spot kick.
The Ukrainian made it 2-2 with an emphatic finish and Alex put Chelsea in control before the late twists and turns.
Villa manager Martin O'Neill was left frustrated, despite the late equaliser.
"We were playing great and deserved to be 2-0 up," he told the BBC. "Their penalty was really dubious, it's a major point in the game... we went from being 2-0 up and suddenly it's 2-1 and we're down to 10 men."
Chelsea said they would appeal against Cole's sending off but Carvalho had no complaints.
"It was never my intention to hurt Gabriel Agbonlahor with the tackle. I was going for the ball and I don't want people to think that I tried to hurt another player," the Portuguese defender said in a club statement.
United manager Alex Ferguson rested a few of his first teamers against Sunderland but United were still too good after Rooney opened the scoring after 20 minutes.
Saha's volley and a Ronaldo free kick made it 3-0 before halftime and Saha completed the rout with a late spot kick.
At the bottom Birmingham City gave themselves some breathing space with 3-0 victory over fellow strugglers Middlesbrough and Wigan Athletic moved out of the drop zone with a 1-0 defeat of inconsistent Newcastle United.
Wigan move above Fulham who were thrashed 5-1 at Tottenham Hotspur, for whom Robbie Keane and Tom Huddlestone both scored twice. West Ham United drew 1-1 with Reading in a mid-table clash.