Chelsea cruised to the English Premier League summit with a 3-0 victory over Birmingham as title rival Arsenal were held to 0-0 at Aston Villa on Wednesday.
Frank Lampard scored twice as Chelsea moved a point ahead of Manchester United with a game in hand. Defending champion United were playing Manchester City in the semifinals of the League Cup.
Arsenal were a further point adrift in third after failing to break down seventh-place Villa, which moved four points clear of crosstown rival Birmingham.
Birmingham arrived at Stamford Bridge on a club-record 15-match unbeaten run, but there was no way back after Chelsea scored inside six minutes.
Florent Malouda was left unmarked in a prime central position to head in Joe Cole’s cross from the right flank.
The pressure was unrelenting from Chelsea, with Ricardo Carvalho hitting the post and Frank Lampard denied from 20 meters (yards) by Joe Hart before the England midfielder strengthened the home side’s lead.
Ballack squared to Lampard, who controlled the ball with his left boot before striking beyond Hart from 25 meters (yards) with his right.
Lampard added a third in the 90th, firing into the bottom right after being fed by Malouda.
As Chelsea’s bid for a first title since 2006 continues to gather pace, Arsenal squandered a chance to stay neck-and-neck on points. Arsenal’s best chance came just before halftime at Villa Park when captain Cesc Fabregas hit the post when Brad Friedel was beaten.
The bar also denied Arsenal in the second half when Andrei Arshavin’s shot was parried by Friedel and Tomas Rosicky’s shot came off the underside of the woodwork but did not cross the line.