Everton tightened their grip on fourth place in the English Premier League and the prospect of Champions League football with a 1-0 win over Reading on Saturday.
Phil Jagielka headed the winner at Goodison Park to condemn Reading to a seventh consecutive league defeat which left them in the relegation zone for the first time this season.
Everton have 47 points, three more than Aston Villa who moved into fifth after a John Carew hat-trick sealed a 4-1 hammering of Newcastle United, who had led at halftime.
The title race resumes on Sunday with the Manchester derby at Old Trafford and Chelsea's home match against Liverpool. Leaders Arsenal are not in action until Monday when they host Blackburn Rovers.
Sunderland improved their survival chances with a 2-0 home defeat of fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic while Birmingham City edged out of the bottom three, above Reading, with a 1-1 draw at West Ham United, who had Lee Bowyer sent off.
Improving Middlesbrough gave a debut to record signing Afonso Alves as they beat Fulham 1-0, the Brazilian striker coming on as a substitute in the second half.
Tottenham Hotspur beat bottom club Derby County 3-0 while Portsmouth moved into seventh place with a 1-0 win at Bolton Wanderers, their eighth away league victory courtesy of Lassana Diarra's late strike and a great save from keeper David James.
While Villa and Everton appear set to scrap with Liverpool for fourth place, Newcastle are looking anxiously over their shoulders after a dreadful collapse at Villa Park.
Looking for a first Premier League victory since before Christmas and a first since Kevin Keegan returned as manager last month, Newcastle fell to pieces despite Michael Owen's fourth-minute header giving them an interval lead.
Wilfred Bouma's deflected shot, his first goal for Villa, made it 1-1 and by the 51st minute the home side were in front when Carew glanced in Ashley Young's corner.
The Norwegian striker punished more woeful Newcastle defending after 72 minutes to nod in his second from Nicky Butt's panicky headed clearance and he completed his hat-trick with a powerful penalty after Stephen Carr's rash handball.
Newcastle's cause was hampered by keeper Shay Given limping off with a groin injury sustained trying to keep out Bouma's shot for the first Villa goal.
With some tough games coming up and Newcastle just six points above the drop zone in 13th place, Keegan now faces a big task to avert a relegation battle.
"We played very well early on and did everything right, we built a platform," Keegan told the BBC. "Sadly halftime came and I'm baffled about what happened in the second half. Their first goal was a hammer blow.
"We got bullied at the back in the second half and that's what worries me. Some players fell short of what I would expect from a Newcastle player."
Everton manager David Moyes, who left striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni out of the squad after he arrived back late from African Nations Cup duty, was relieved after his side struggled against Reading.
"I don't think we were fortunate but we had to grind it out. I was a bit worried that we wouldn't score today. We can and will play better than we did," Moyes told the BBC, after his side opened up a four-point lead over city rivals Liverpool.