Premier League round-up
Manchester United finish 2012 seven points clear of neighbours City after the most dramatic round of Boxing Day action.
Last Updated: 26/12/12 10:10pm
The most dramatic round of Boxing Day fixtures in living memory ensures Manchester United finish the year seven points clear of neighbours City courtesy of a seven-goal thriller at Old Trafford that saw Sir Alex Ferguson's side edge out Newcastle at the death.
United were far from convincing but Manchester City even less so on their travels to Sunderland as Adam Johnson haunted his former club to dish up the proverbial hangover to Roberto Mancini and his men.
A piece of magic from Juan Mata was enough to give Chelsea a maximum haul at Norwich, while Everton cemented their position in fourth spot by beating Wigan 2-1 in an all North West affair.
A late Rickie Lambert penalty gave Southampton a point at Fulham, while Reading and Swansea could not be separated in an instantly forgettable stalemate at the Madejski.
For QPR it was again a tale of woe at Loftus Road as West Brom overcame traffic problems to a steal a 2-1 victory from their jaunt to the West End, while Aston Villa suffered a 4-0 home drubbing at the hands of Tottenham and the final game of Boxing Day ended with a fully-deserved 3-1 success for Stoke against Liverpool.
Ferguson will have demanded a reaction from his Manchester United players following what was a relatively abject performance in their last outing to Swansea, but the Boxing Day fare dished up at Old Trafford was at times no less slovenly.
Newcastle have been pretty dire themselves of late but were given a shot in the arm after just four minutes when they capitalised first on their host's profligacy in possession, before David de Gea made a meal of Demba Ba's angled drive to gift-wrap the opener to James Perch.
The home side's leveller, on 25 minutes, also owed more to suspect defending than sublime attacking play when Robin van Persie's free-kick created a scramble in the box that culminated in Tim Krul being able only to push Javier Hernandez's shot on the turn into the path of Jonny Evans.
The centre-half's next goal was less well received by the majority present as he deflected Danny Simpson's cross-cum-shot into his own goal. A linesman's flag looked to have come to Evans' rescue as Papiss Cisse was ruled off-side. Alan Pardew was apoplectic on the touchline as referee Mike Dean concurred, before having a change of heart after a prolonged delay to allow the goal to stand.
Sir Alex, predictably, was none too happy but it could have been even worse for the Scot had Sylvain Marveaux's shot been just an inch lower as it cannoned back off the bar before half-time. His protestations at the start of the second period were on the fiery side of frightening.
The second period was no less entertaining, if anything even better, as Patrice Evra continued his remarkable scoring run of late to level with a low angled drive from the edge of the area just shy of the hour mark.
It was a parity they held for just ten minutes as Newcastle, at this stage on the back front, broke with purpose and from Gabriel Obertan's pull-back, Ba found a searing low finish that gave De Gea not a prayer.
Such was the see-saw nature of the contest it was hardly a surprise this was not the end of the scoring as Van Persie's 15th of the season, a precision finish at the second attempt, made it 3-3.
The game was set up for a hero and in the final minute of the most pulsating of contests, Hernandez proved to be just that man as his scuffed finish from Michael Carrick's centre turned Sir Alex's mood from sour to ecstatic with a single kick, which could prove to be one of the season's most vital.
Manchester City have been no more convincing themselves of late and a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland concludes a miserable festive period for the champions.
Had Vincent Kompany's early effort at the Stadium of Light not crashed against the bar it may have been a different story but it set the tone for the rest of the game.
Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet twice had to be at his best to keep City from breaking the deadlock in the first half, while at the other end Steven Fletcher was denied by an alert Joe Hart.
The England man covered himself in less glory after the break though as he was at fault for Johnson's winner. The former City man cut in from the right onto his favourite left foot and while his shot was punchy it should not have been beaten Hart at his near post.
However, the winner was not without controversy with the visitors adamant they should have been awarded a free-kick for a foul on Pablo Zabaleta during the build-up.
City bombed the box late on and even threw on Joleon Lescott up front as a late substitute but all to no avail, as they finish 2012 with it all to do if they are to retain their first ever Premier League title.
On the back of their demolition job on Aston Villa it was no surprise Chelsea went into their game with Norwich in a confident frame of mind but Chris Hughton's side made the European champions work for their win at Carrow Road.
It took a moment of real quality to break the deadlock as Juan Mata's 13th goal of a magnificent campaign to date oozed class, as he worked a yard from Oscar's pass to bend a sumptuous 20-yarder past Mark Bunn.
Norwich were never out of a contest that saw Chelsea create and squander further chances but three-points is a further tonic to Rafael Benitez and his players in third.
Leon Osman and Phil Jagielka struck as Everton maintained their Champions League challenge at the expense of an enterprising but luckless Wigan at a rain-sodden Goodison Park.
Osman broke the deadlock with a deflected opener early in the second half before Phil Neville marked his 500th Premier League appearance by setting up Jagielka for the second.
Arouna Kone gave Wigan a late lifeline but it was not enough for the visitors who, despite a hard-working display, appear to be heading for another relegation fight.
'Keep calm and pass me the ball' was the slightly ego-centric message revealed by Fulham's goalscorer as Dimitar Berbatov gave his side the lead at home to Southampton at Craven Cottage.
The Bulgarian has endured a lean spell in West London of late but needed just eight minutes to open the scoring as he slid in to convert Sascha Riether's low delivery from the right.
It looked to be enough to give Fulham the spoils until the 85th minute when Gaston Ramirez floated in a corner from the left and Chris Baird was adjudged to have handled under pressure from Lambert, who stepped up from 12 yards to fire into the top left-hand corner.
QPR's battle to beat the drop got a whole lot harder at Loftus Road as they fell to a 2-1 defeat to West Brom.
Steve Clarke's Baggies played some bright football in the first period and it was no surprise when from one such intricate move, they took the lead as the ball was worked to Chris Brunt to arrow a peach of an effort past Robert Green.
It was a lead they extended not long after the break when Green guaranteed his appearance in next year's festive batch of blooper DVDs. As the ball spun towards him on his goalline from a West Brom corner he could only palm into his own goal when under pressure from an opponent caught beneath him.
Djibril Cisse's late consolation proved to be just that, nothing more.
Boyhood Everton fan Jon Walters proved to be the scourge of Liverpool for the second successive season at the Britannia Stadium as the Reds' woeful run at Stoke continued.
Walters scored either side of Kenwyne Jones' header after the visitors had taken the lead through a Steven Gerrard penalty awarded in the first minute.
The Merseyside-born 29-year-old was the match-winner on this ground in September 2011 with the only goal of the game from the spot. And his two strikes took him level with Ricardo Fuller as the club's joint leading Premier League goalscorer with 18.
Gareth Bale bagged a second-half hat-trick as Tottenham returned to the Premier League top four with a comfortable victory at Aston Villa.
After dominating the first half without managing to make a breakthrough, Spurs went ahead in the 57th minute when Jermain Defoe nutmegged Brad Guzan to register his 14th goal of the season.
Bale - who had already gone close twice - then stole the show, netting in the 61st, 73rd and 84th minutes to take his own tally for the campaign to 10.
Reading ended a run of seven consecutive defeats with a goalless draw in their Boxing Day bout with Swansea at the Madejski Stadium.
The Royals are still rooted deep in the relegation zone but they were the only one of the bottom three teams to get any kind of a result.
Both sides had chances to win a game few would want to watch again but in the end a point apiece was just about a fair result.