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Rediff.com  » Sports » Chelsea maintain title charge

Chelsea maintain title charge

March 20, 2005 10:53 IST

Chelsea took another stride towards the Premier League title as they preserve their 11-point lead with a 4-1 victory over Crystal Palace.

In what is becoming a battle for the runners-up spot, second-placed Manchester United and Arsenal, in third, secured 1-0 victories on Saturday over Fulham and Blackburn Rovers respectively.

Everton, who occupy the fourth Champions League spot, play fifth-placed Liverpool in the Merseyside derby on Sunday.

Chelsea conceded their first league goal at Stamford Bridge since November 20 as relegation-threatened Crystal Palace briefly threatened a surprise.

Aki Riihilahti took advantage of a mistake by Frank Lampard to equalise for Palace shortly before halftime after the England midfielder had thumped home his 11th goal of the season to fire Chelsea in front.

Joe Cole restored Chelsea's lead after 54 minutes and substitute Mateja Kezman wrapped up the 24th league victory of the season for Jose Mourinho's side with a late double.

A further boost for Chelsea was a second-half substitute appearance for Dutch winger Arjen Robben, his first action for six weeks after breaking his foot.

With eight games remaining Chelsea, who last won the title 50 years ago, have 77 points and are on course to break United's record Premier League points total of 92 set in 1993-94.

SPECTACULAR STRIKE

United needed a spectacular first-half strike by Cristiano Ronaldo to increase Fulham's relegation fears, although they were nearly made to pay for several wasted chances when Lee Clark hit the woodwork late on for the Londoners.

The Portuguese winger fired an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net after cutting in from the left midway through a first half dominated by the home side.

It was United's first league victory against Fulham in four attempts and moved them onto 66 points, two more than champions Arsenal who cruised to a 1-0 victory at Blackburn Rovers in a dress rehearsal for next month's FA Cup semi-final.

Dutch striker Robin Van Persie, only drafted in when Freddie Ljungberg joined a lengthy list of Arsenal absentees in the warm-up, struck the winner three minutes before halftime, gliding past keeper Brad Friedel after a pass from Ashley Cole.

The goal made amends for a 50th minute red card he picked up at Southampton on February 26, when his team went on to concede an equaliser in a 1-1 draw.

"It was a hard time for me after the Southampton game," Van Persie, who also hit the bar in the second half, told Sky Sports News.

"I got a red card, it was stupid but life goes on. This is a great day for me. It was a hard month, I've had to train hard and keep quiet."

West Bromwich Albion wrecked Charlton Athletic's hopes of going fifth and increased their own survival chances with an impressive 4-1 away win -- their first in the league this season.

Robert Earnshaw got a second-half hat-trick against a Charlton side reduced to 10 men after Talal El Karkouri was sent off for a two-footed lunge in the first half.

West Brom remain second from bottom with 24 points but are now only two behind Crystal Palace who are in the safety zone.

Former England fullback Stuart Pearce's first match as caretaker manager of Manchester City, following the resignation of Kevin Keegan, ended in a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur for whom Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane were on target.

Portsmouth and Newcastle shared the points, and nine yellow cards, in a 1-1 draw at Fratton Park.

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