Fernando Torres kept Liverpool’s dream of a first English league title in 19 years alive with a stoppage-time winner at Portsmouth, but Chelsea look dead and buried after yet another stumble.
Rafael Benitez’s side twice came from a goal down at Fratton Park before Torres, left on the bench until 15 minutes from time, met Yossi Benayoun’s cutback with a bullet header to seal a 3-2 win that lifted the Reds a point clear of Manchester United at the top of the table.
The champions have played two games less but the resilience displayed by Liverpool on Saturday suggests the title battle is far from over.
“We showed character, determination to the end and desire,” said a relieved Benitez, who had gambled on starting first-team regulars Torres, Dirk Kuyt and Xavi Alonso on the bench on a day when he was missing injured captain Steven Gerrard. “We are in a good position and we are confident we can stay there. If we are near the top in the final month of the season, we can fight for the title.”
Chelsea, though, appear to be out of the reckoning after a goalless draw at home to Hull left Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side languishing in fourth place.
The Stamford Bridge stalemate meant the Blues have won just two of their last six matches in the league and enabled Aston Villa, 2-0 winners at Blackburn, to leapfrog them into third place.
If United won at West Ham yesterday, Chelsea would find themselves eight points adrift of the leaders having played a game more and the jeers of their own fans spoke volumes about the club’s decline.
Chelsea have now dropped 16 points at home this season and Scolari was conspicuous by his absence from the post-match inquest, leaving assistant Ray Wilkins to defend the man who guided Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002.
“People do pay a lot of money to watch football and if they want to boo then by all means come and boo,” Wilkins said. “But to say someone does not know what he is doing when he has achieved what he has in the game, is out of order.”
Brazilian striker Jo had a dream debut for Everton, who followed up their FA Cup win over Liverpool in midweek with a convincing 3-0 win over Bolton.
After winning the penalty that enabled Mikel Arteta to put his new club ahead five minutes before the break, Jo opened his Everton account four minutes after the break and then added a last-minute penalty of his own.
In one match since he signed on loan from Manchester City, the Brazilian has already scored twice as many goals as he managed in six months at City.
An equally impressive debut by Shay Given helped City pull a little further clear of trouble with a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.
Boro enjoyed the better of the chances but were frustrated by a string of fine saves from the former Newcastle goalkeeper before Craig Bellamy sealed the points for City with a 51st-minute strike.
Newcastle handed ailing manager Joe Kinnear the perfect tonic with a 3-2 win at bottom side West Brom, their first victory in seven league matches.
Marc-Antoine Fortune canceled out Damien Duff’s second-minute opener, but the Magpies reclaimed the lead through Danish winger Peter Lovenkrands and Steven Taylor’s strike left them firmly in control at the break.
Fortune struck again in the 73rd minute to ensure a tense finale but Newcastle held out.
Wigan’s meeting with Fulham ended in a dour goalless stalemate while Sunderland took a big step towards survival with a 2-0 win over 10-man Stoke City.