Mon, May 05, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Red Devils edge closer to taking title

PREMIER LEAGUE Since Manchester United beat Charlton, Arsenal will need to overcome Leeds today or they will lose the title


Liverpool's Milan Baros, right, battles with Manchester City's Sylvain Distin during their English Premier League soccer match at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium, England, on Saturday.


Ruud van Nistelrooy scored three goals as Manchester United beat Charlton 4-1 Saturday to move closer to its eighth Premier League title in 11 years.

The pressure is now all on defending champion Arsenal -- it must beat Leeds at Highbury on Sunday or lose the title.

The misfiring Gunners had an eight point lead over United two months ago with a game in hand, but have since struggled for consistency. Meanwhile United closed the gap and overtook Arsenal by winning eight of its nine previous matches.

The Red Devils now have an eight point lead with one game at Everton remaining. After Leeds, Arsenal still has two games, home to Southampton and away to relegated Sunderland.

"One hand on the title doesn't exist," said van Nistelrooy, who has now scored in nine successive matches.

"We're staying focused on the last game -- and we're not celebrating any kind of title today."

West Ham's fight to avoid relegation was boosted with a 1-0 win over Chelsea at Upton Park. Paolo di Canio came on as a second half substitute to score the winner.

Fellow relegation candidate Bolton plays Southampton later Saturday.

Newcastle clinched a Champions League spot with a 1-0 win over Birmingham from a Hugo Viana goal.

The final Champions League place will be decided on the final day of the season, next Sunday, when Chelsea and Liverpool play each other at Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool lost 2-1 to Manchester City. Both City goals were from former Reds loan signing Nicolas Anelka, with the winner in injury time.

United has 80 points, Arsenal 72, Newcastle 68 and Chelsea and Liverpool on 64.

Sunderland lost its 14th straight game with a 1-0 defeat by Aston Villa. The Black Cats were already relegated, and will set a new record for the least amount of Premier League points in a season.

Sunderland has 19 points with one game left -- Watford earned 24 points three season ago.

Everton scored two own goals to gift Fulham a 2-0 win through defender Alan Stubbs and goalkeeper Richard Wright.

In other matches: Blackburn 1 West Bromwich Albion 1 and Middlesbrough 5 Tottenham 1.

Manchester United won the first Premier League title in 1993. The only clubs to have taken the title off them are Blackburn (1995) and Arsenal (1998, 2002).

"We were very convincing," Ferguson said. "It was a marvelous performance of drive and determination. The speed of our game was terrific and I couldn't have asked for any more."

United went ahead in the 11th minute when David Beckham's kick was slightly deflected by Charlton defender Chris Powell and looped into the net.

Charlton equalized two minutes later helped by an error by United goalkeeper Roy Carroll, who started ahead of a fit Fabien Barthez. With Carroll way off his line, Claus Jensen scored from 40m into an empty net. Van Nistelrooy scored his first from a Beckham corner, swiveling in a crowded box to score past Charlton 'keeper Dean Kiely in the 32nd minute. The Dutchman's second was a close range lob over Kiely five minutes later.

In the 53rd minute, van Nistelrooy added his third, collecting a long range Beckham cross-field pass in the box, and taking one touch to score.

It was van Nistelrooy's 100th appearance for United and his third hattrick this season. Van Nistelrooy has scored 79 times since joining United in July 2001.

"Firstly we wanted to win -- but three goals makes it a nice day for me," said van Nistelrooy.

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