Teenager Federico Macheda rode to Manchester United’s rescue again as the champions kept their noses in front of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League with a nervy 2-1 win at Sunderland on Saturday.
United came within quarter of an hour of dropping two points at the Stadium of Light before substitute Macheda, with his first touch, claimed the winner, prompting Sir Alex Ferguson to describe him as “something special.”
Macheda’s deflection of Michael Carrick’s shot came six days after he scored a sensational stoppage-time winner against Aston Villa and Ferguson admitted those two goals could prove very important by the end of the season.
“It was a big three points because it’s not easy here,” the Scot said.
The defeat left Sunderland in deep trouble at the opposite end of the table, but manager Ricky Sbragia was encouraged by a battling display in which Kenwyne Jones canceled out Paul Scholes’ first-half header.
As well as their one-point lead, United have a game in hand over Liverpool, who bounced back from their Champions League mauling by Chelsea by knocking four goals past Blackburn Rovers without reply.
Chelsea kept their own title hopes alive, but came close to self-destructing in a 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers.
Michael Ballack’s first-half strike and a Didier Drogba double either side of a Frank Lampard penalty had Chelsea cruising at 4-0 with 20 minutes left.
But three goals in the space of eight minutes — from Andy O’Brien, Chris Basham and Matt Taylor — ensured Guus Hiddink’s side were left hanging on desperately at the end.
“We got very sloppy,” was the Dutchman’s verdict on his side’s near collapse.
Arsenal’s long unbeaten run in the league appeared under threat after Mido gave Wigan Athletic a half-time lead at the JJB Stadium.
But the Gunners cut loose in the final half-hour, with Theo Walcott, Mikael Silvestre, Andriy Arshavin and Alexandre Song all finding the net in a 4-1 win that consolidates the Gunners’ grip on fourth place.
At the other end of the table, Newcastle United’s hopes of escaping relegation were dashed. Alan Shearer’s side needed a late equalizer from substitute Andy Carroll to earn a 1-1 draw at Stoke City, for whom former Newcastle midfielder Abdoulaye Faye opened the scoring.
The point left Newcastle level on points with Middlesbrough, who gave their survival hopes a huge shot in the arm with a 3-1 win over Hull City.
Tuncay Sanli’s third-minute strike was canceled out by a header from Hull’s on-loan Angolan striker Manucho, but Matthew Bates toe-poked in Stewart Downing’s corner to give Boro a halftime lead and Marlon King sealed the points late on.
Portsmouth blew a chance to pull further clear of the drop zone after a 2-2 draw at home to bottom side West Bromwich Albion, while Russia striker Roman Payluchenko scored the only goal in Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 win over West Ham United.