Sir Alex Ferguson has been forced to admit the Premier League title race is back on after watching Manchester United slump to a 2-0 defeat at Fulham in a match where Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney were sent off.
Chelsea, beaten 1-0 at Tottenham, were unable to capitalize on the champions’ slip-up, but Liverpool, who beat United 4-1 on March 14, could cut their rivals’ lead to one point if they beat Aston Villa at Anfield yesterday.
Arsenal too could have a major influence on how the season ends. The on-form Gunners, who beat Newcastle 3-1 on Saturday, still have to play all three teams above them.
A Danny Murphy penalty and Zoltan Gera’s late strike sealed the points for Fulham, condemning United to back-to-back league defeats for the first time in almost four years, as well as their first reverse at Craven Cottage since 1964.
United could have few complaints after a lackluster display in which Scholes was ordered off for the goal-line handball that allowed Murphy to open the scoring.
Rooney, who came on as a second-half substitute, was given his marching orders after collecting a second yellow card moments after Gera’s 87th-minute strike.
United’s slip-up ensured that Chelsea’s first defeat under temporary manager Guus Hiddink was particularly frustrating. Luka Modric made the difference, finishing off Aaron Lennon’s clever cutback five minutes after half-time.
Arsenal increased the pressure on Villa ahead of their trip to Liverpool by beating Newcastle at St James’ Park, a win that leaves their hosts in the relegation zone.
Obafemi Martins, who had seen a first-half penalty saved by Manuel Almunia, canceled out Nicklas Bendtner’s opener for the Gunners inside a minute just before the hour mark.
But Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri quickly killed the contest to leave Arsenal three points clear of Villa in fourth, the final qualifying slot for next season’s Champions League.
Everton now look to be out of the race for fourth after a 2-1 defeat by struggling Portsmouth at Fratton Park, while Stoke dragged themselves out of the bottom three with a 1-0 win over second-from-bottom Middlesbrough.
Stoke’s win ensured Blackburn finished the day in a worse position than they started it, despite a battling display to earn a 1-1 draw with West Ham at Ewood Park.
West Brom’s chances of hauling themselves off the bottom look bleak after they could only draw 1-1 with Bolton.