Wayne Rooney's English Premier League debut for Manchester United turned sour as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on Sunday.
In a later kickoff Jose Mourinho's Chelsea maintained the pressure on leaders Arsenal with a goal from midfielder Joe Cole sealing a 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
The 18-year-old England striker had a couple of half chances early on but rarely threatened a repeat performance and was shown a yellow card for a rash tackle on George Boateng.
Boro's youthful side survived early pressure and took a deserved lead in the 32nd minute when midfielder Stewart Downing converted a cross from the impressive James Morrison.
United enjoyed plenty of possession after the break but relied heavily on winger Cristiano Ronaldo for their attacking spark as Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy struggled to repeat the link-up play that saw off Fenerbahce.
Van Nistelrooy headed one effort against the woodwork while Boro's Gaizka Mendieta wasted a great chance to make it 2-0 when he lashed a shot over the crossbar.
Ten minutes from time United finally broke through when striker Alan Smith, who had just come on as a substitute for John O'Shea, headed Ronaldo's inviting cross beyond Mark Schwarzer for his fifth goal of the season.
United manager Alex Ferguson said Rooney's low-key performance was down to tiredness.
"Young Wayne was maybe a bit tired because Tuesday was his first game for 96 days and he paid the price today," he said. "But I tried to keep as many goalscorers on the pitch as possible when we were chasing the goal.
"Luckily Alan got the goal because it was important we got something out of the game."
The draw moved Manchester United up to fourth on 13 points, nine behind leaders Arsenal who thrashed Charlton Athletic 4-0 on Saturday and seven behind Chelsea who were good value for their victory over Liverpool.
Still unbeaten under Mourinho, Chelsea were rarely threatened by a conservative Liverpool, although it took them a while to capitalise on their dominance.
The breakthrough came after 64 minutes when Cole, a first-half substitute for injured striker Didier Drogba, nonchalantly flicked a Frank Lampard free kick past Chris Kirkland.
Rafael Benitez's Liverpool side lacked any cutting edge in the final third and Chelsea keeper Petr Cech was not troubled until stoppage time when he beat out a drive from Steve Finnan.
Chelsea have now kept seven clean sheets in eight Premier League matches and have conceded just two goals all season in all competitions, although Mourinho admits he would like them to be scoring more goals.
"I can accept criticism that we should be scoring more goals," the Portuguese told Sky Sports. "But I think it's unfair to criticise our football philosophy.
"Maybe people should criticise our opponents. People can't say we don't play attacking football, we had three up front and many teams are playing against us with one striker.
"We are defending great, and are just two points behind Arsenal who are playing beautiful football and scoring lots of goals. One weekend can change that."
Newcastle United lost ground on the leaders when they could only manage a 2-2 draw at Birmingham City.
Bidding for a fourth consecutive league victory since the sacking of Bobby Robson, Newcastle made a flying start when Jermaine Jenas scored after two minutes.
Birmingham replied through Dwight Yorke and defender Matthew Upson but Graeme Souness's side earned a point thanks to Nicky Butt's 67th-minute equaliser, his first goal for the club since joining from Manchester United.