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Fergie hails true grit as United edge nearer to title

Manchester United took another big step towards a third straight English title after coming from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1 and reclaim a seven-point lead at the top of the table.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, London
UPDATED ON MAR 05, 2009 11:48 AM IST

Manchester United took another big step towards a third straight English title after coming from behind to beat Newcastle 2-1 and reclaim a seven-point lead at the top of the table.

Wins for Liverpool and Chelsea 24 hours earlier had encouraged thoughts of the title battle being opened up once more, which were further encouraged by Peter Lovenkrands 9th-minute opener for Newcastle.

But the stumble United's rivals had hoped for failed to materialise as United hit back through Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov.

Elsewhere, Manchester City dented Aston Villa's hopes of securing Champions League football next season with a 2-0 win at Eastlands while Stoke escaped from the relegation zone by beating Bolton by the same margin.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson admitted his side had not been at their best but paid tribute to his players' determination.

"It wasn't a great performance," admitted the Scot. "We got off to a terrible start, and Newcastle were pumped up for it.

"But coming from 1-0 down was a good result for us. It required a lot of grit."

As well as a seven-point cushion, United have a game in hand over their rivals as they seek to close out the campaign.

Newcastle ended Edwin van der Sar's record-breaking run without conceding a goal in a league match at 1,311 minutes - courtesy of a rare error by the Dutchman - but the Magpies proved incapable of defending their early lead.

Elano celebrated his return to Manchester City's starting line-up by netting a first-half penalty as City ended Villa's run of ten consecutive away victories in the league with a 2-0 win at Eastlands.

The Brazilian playmaker slotted the spot-kick home afer James Milner had tripped Shaun Wright-Phillips and it was Wright-Phillips who sealed City's 5th successive home win two minutes from time.

The defeat left Villa with just a three-point cushion over Arsenal in the battle for fourth place and the final Champions League qualifying spot but manager Martin O'Neill denied his side were beginning to display jitters.

"We are not nervous - we are excited," O'Neill said. "Really, if you are not excited by the position we are in, you shouldn't be playing.

"We are in this position because we deserve to be. It would be a shame to throw it up now without a fight - but I don't think we will."

Stoke's win over Bolton came courtesy of a well-taken early strike by James Beattie and a late effort from Ricardo Fuller.

Tottenham bounced back from Sunday's penalty shoot-out defeat by Manchester United in the League Cup final with a 4-0 win over Middlesbrough that significantly eases their survival concerns and leaves Gareth Southgate's side mired in the relegation zone.

Robbie Keane opened the scoring with his first strike for Spurs since his January return from Liverpool. Roman Pavlyuchenko doubled the lead and a brace for Aaron Lennon saw Harry Redknapp's side cruise towards safety.

West Ham's push for European football next season received another boost with a hard-fought win at Wigan in a match that both sides ended with ten men.

Carlton Cole gave West Ham the lead then got himself sent off before half-time for a second bookable offence. But the Hammers held on for all three points, with the help of Wigan being reduced to ten men themselves seven minutes after the restart as a result of Lee Cattermole's reckless challenge on Scott Parker.

Blackburn earned a valuable point by holding Everton to a goalless draw but Sam Allardyce's side still found themselves back in the bottom three because of Stoke's win.

A stoppage time winner by substitute Manucho, the Angolan striker on loan from Manchester United, earned Hull an unlikely 1-0 win at Fulham and halted Phil Brown's side's slide towards trouble.

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