Manchester United edged closer to a record 19th English title by squeezing past Everton 1-0 on Saturday while Fernando Torres ended his long scoring drought in second-place Chelsea’s 3-0 win over West Ham that kept the defending champions in contention.
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Javier Hernandez rose high to head home at the far post in the 84th minute to secure United victory at Old Trafford, leaving his side needing seven points from the last four games to guarantee the title.
”The way we’re going about our business gives us an outstanding chance,” United manager Alex Ferguson said. ”There’s a winning attitude about the team and a real determination. They refuse to give in.”
Chelsea stayed six points adrift by seeing off West Ham at a rain-swept Stamford Bridge, with Torres netting his first Chelsea goal since his 50 million pounds (then $81 million) move from Liverpool on Jan. 31.
”After 14 games waiting for my first goal, that was not what I expected when I signed,” Torres said. ”I want to thank all my teammates.”
Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda scored Chelsea’s other goals.
Arsenal, which visits Bolton on Sunday, is a further three points behind.
Argentina midfielder Maxi Rodriguez scored a hat trick for sixth-place Liverpool in its 5-0 thrashing of Birmingham at Anfield, moving the team three points behind Tottenham, which missed a chance to leapfrog Manchester City into fourth by being held to a 2-2 draw by West Bromwich Albion.
Netherlands forward Dirk Kuyt – with his seventh goal in the last six league matches – and substitute Joe Cole also scored for Liverpool, which is level on 18 English titles with United.
Simon Cox denied Spurs all three points at White Hart Lane with an 81st-minute equalizer for West Brom after Jermain Defoe had put the hosts ahead with his 100th Premier League goal.
At the other end of the table, Wolverhampton moved off the bottom, ahead of West Ham, with a 1-1 home draw against Fulham and Wigan dropped into the relegation zone by losing 4-2 at Sunderland.
Blackpool moved up a place to fourth bottom after drawing at home to Newcastle, with DJ Campbell’s 10th goal of the season leveling for the hosts after Peter Lovenkrands’ opener.
England striker Darren Bent’s 15th goal of the season earned Aston Villa a 1-1 draw with FA Cup finalist Stoke, which went ahead through Kenwyne Jones.
Everton came close to denying United a 13th successive home victory in the league but Hernandez made it 19 goals in all competitions by connecting with Antonio Valencia’s floated cross to beat visiting goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had made several great saves earlier in the match.
”Javier has done better than everyone expected,” Ferguson said of the player he signed from Mexican side Chivas last summer. ”We thought that because it was his first year, he would just get used to the English game and get strengthened up. He has passed all those tests.
”He is first in, at 9am every morning, and he is last to leave. He is a truly dedicated boy.”
United, who rested captain Nemanja Vidic ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Schalke, play Arsenal and Chelsea over the next two weekends.
Torres was mobbed by his teammates after stroking in Chelsea’s second against the Hammers in the 84th, his first Premier League goal since Jan. 22 and his maiden strike after 14 games for his new club.
”There will be less pressure for me now,” Torres said.
Lampard broke the deadlock in the 44th and, after West Ham had squandered numerous opportunities, Malouda sealed victory in second-half injury time to follow up Torres’ strike.
Rodriguez was brought back into the Liverpool team in place of the injured Andy Carroll and wasted little time getting on the scoresheet, breaking the deadlock in the seventh minute and adding more in the 66th and 73rd minutes.
The victory was another demonstration of how comfortable Liverpool is looking under temporary manager Kenny Dalglish, who has transformed the team’s fortunes since replacing Roy Hodgson in January.
”The players give me joy and satisfaction,” Dalglish said. ”Overall it was a thoroughly deserving three points. We played some fantastic football.”
Spurs striker Roman Pavlyuchenko had canceled out Peter Odemwingie’s opener for West Brom, before Cox ruined the hosts’ hopes of going back into the top four.
”We moved the ball about well today but you’ve got no divine right to win games,” Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said.
Sunderland scored goals through Asamoah Gyan, Jordan Henderson (two) and Stephane Sessegnon to claim a first win in 10 games and all but guarantee its safety.
Mohamed Diame and Franco di Santo were Wigan’s goalscorers.
Blackburn, which is fifth from bottom and a point above Blackpool, hosts Man City on Monday.