Premier League round-up
Manchester City offered a positive response to their derby setback last weekend, but United remain six points in front following a comfortable win.
Last Updated: 15/12/12 5:18pm
Manchester City offered a positive response to their derby setback last weekend, but Manchester United remain six points in front following a comfortable win.
Elsewhere, Aston Villa stunned Anfield with a smash and grab raid, Queens Park Rangers picked up their first win of the season at the 17th time of asking, Norwich stretched their unbeaten run and Everton were held on the road.
Manchester United made it five straight wins in comprehensive style as they proved far too strong for inconsistent Sunderland at Old Trafford. The table-topping Red Devils never looked like allowing the chasing pack to close in, with a 3-1 victory all but wrapped up before half-time. Sunderland were able to keep United at bay for 16 minutes, but two goals in the space of three minutes ended any hope they had of springing a surprise. Ashley Young's persistence paved the way for United's opener, while a poor clearance from former United defender John O'Shea presented Robin van Persie with the type of opportunity he rarely wastes. With Sunderland rocking, Tom Cleverley made it two with a sublime finish. The England midfielder played a neat one-two on the edge of the box before bending the ball past Simon Mignolet and into the corner of the net. Wayne Rooney was desperate to get in on the act after the break and he hit the crossbar before adding a third shortly before the hour mark, with a drilled cross from Van Persie ricocheting in off his shins. Ex-United striker Fraizer Campbell stepped off the bench to nod in a reply for Sunderland on 72 minutes, but the Red Devils were well out of sight by then.
Manchester City briefly closed to within three points of United, with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle United in the lunchtime kick-off suggesting they have got derby heartache out of their system. Roberto Mancini would have been looking for a positive response from his side, and he got one against an out-of-sorts Newcastle outfit that has now suffered six defeats in seven. Sergio Aguero broke the deadlock at St James' Park with just 10 minutes on the clock, tapping home after Samir Nasri had been freed into space by an exquisite through-ball from Yaya Toure. City doubled their lead on 39 minutes, with Davide Santon only succeeding in sending a Javi Garcia header into the back of his own net when attempting to clear on the line. Newcastle grabbed a lifeline six minutes into the second half when Demba Ba beat the offside trap to nod past Joe Hart, but City restored their two-goal lead on 78 minutes when Pablo Zabaleta crossed for Yaya Toure to prod past Tim Krul.
Liverpool bossed possession during a home date with Aston Villa, but were left to pick the bones out of a 3-1 defeat at the final whistle. The Reds failed to make the most of the opportunities which came their way during the opening half-an-hour and were made to pay on 29 minutes when an ambitious 25-yard drive from Christian Benteke skipped off the turf and in off the inside of the post. Andres Weimann almost made it two moments later, as he lobbed onto the roof of the net, but five minutes before half-time he got his goal, with a brilliant back-heel from Benteke allowing him to sweep into the net. Villa were in dreamland, with their record at Anfield making for dismal reading, and things got even better on 51 minutes when Martin Skrtel backed off Benteke into his own box and the in-form striker was left with the simplest of tasks of firing past Jose Reina. Steven Gerrard glanced in a consolation for Liverpool three minutes from time, but it was an afternoon to forget for Brendan Rodgers and his troops.
Queens Park Rangers finally had something to cheer on Saturday, with a 2-1 victory over capital rivals Fulham getting a serious monkey off their back. It looked as though it may be another one of those days for Harry Redknapp's side early on, with Jamie Mackie rolling wide of the target after collecting a blind back-pass from John Arne Riise. Their luck turned, though, on 52 minutes when Adel Taarabt underlined how important he could be to QPR in their basement battle. He strode forward from midfield and saw a dragged shot from 25 yards take a wicked deflection off Brede Hangeland, leaving Mark Schwarzer wrong-footed. The Moroccan was now in the mood to open his box of tricks, and on 68 minutes he broke through Hangeland before bending an effort from the edge of the box into the bottom corner with the outside of his right boot. Mladen Petric lashed home a reply for Fulham, via the aid of a deflection, two minutes from the end, setting up a nervy finish, but the hosts held on to clamber off the foot of the division.
Norwich City made it 10 games unbeaten in Premier League competition with a 2-1 victory over Wigan Athletic, who remain inside the relegation zone. Anthony Pilkington was the star of the show for the Canaries, with his well-struck opener on 15 minutes beating Latics keeper Ali Al Habsi for pace. Pilkington then went on to miss a sitter, and saw Shaun Maloney level matters early in the second half with a fierce drive from the edge of the box. Pilkington was, however, able to help Norwich edge back in front on 64 minutes, with his cross nodded home powerfully by Wes Hoolahan.
Everton continue to sit inside the top four, but missed the opportunity to cement a UEFA Champions League standing after being held to a 1-1 draw at Stoke City. The Toffees went in front at the Britannia Stadium, but were unable to build on that advantage and will consider themselves fortunate to have ended the game with 11 men. Ryan Shawcross inadvertently put through his own net to open the scoring, with the Stoke skipper getting his head to a Steven Pienaar cross and looping the ball over Asmir Begovic. The Potters have proven that they are about much more than route one football in recent times, but it was that approach which got them back into the game on 52 minutes. Shawcross hung a high ball into the penalty area and Kenwyne Jones rose to divert a header past Tim Howard. That was to be the end of the scoring, but Marouane Fellaini provided another major talking point when he clashed with Shawcross and the Belgian will have to wait and see if he is stung with retrospective punishment for a clear butt on the Stoke defender.