Mon, Apr 09, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Chelsea boost Champions League hopes

AFP, LONDON

Juan Mata’s last-minute winner saw Chelsea strengthen their bid for Champions League soccer next season as they beat Wigan Athletic 2-1 in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Victory saw Chelsea, who could qualify for the Champions League by winning this season’s edition — they face champions Barcelona in the semi-finals — move above Newcastle United and left them just two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal.

Only the top three teams in the Premier League are guaranteed places in the Champions League proper, with the fourth-placed side set for a qualifying round.

Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic volleyed home in the 62nd minute and the goal stood despite furious Wigan protests that he was offside.

Wigan, who remained in the bottom three, equalized when Mohamed Diame struck eight minutes from time.

However, Chelsea grabbed a late winner when, after Fernando Torres’s volley hit the post, the ball struck Mata on the chest and trickled in.

Furious Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said: “The linesman had a disgusting performance. Today, my players were robbed and they now have a disgusting feeling they don’t deserve.”

League Cup winners and FA Cup semi-finalists Liverpool saw a run of three straight league defeats end with a 1-1 draw at home to Aston Villa.

Brazilian goalkeeper Alexander Doni, making his Liverpool debut in the absence of the suspended Pepe Reina, flapped at a 10th minute cross from former Reds defender Stephen Warnock and Chris Herd turned in the loose ball.

However, Luis Suarez, who had seen a header hit the post, equalized eight minutes from time when he nodded in from close range.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish was unhappy with the performance of referee Michael Oliver, who twice denied the Reds a penalty and later booked Uruguay striker Suarez for diving.

Suarez went down under a challenge from Alan Hutton, who appeared to make contact, while after the break the ball hit Eric Lichaj’s hand as Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt tried to go past him.

West Bromwich Albion ensured Blackburn Rovers remained in the bottom three with a 3-0 win at the Hawthorns.

Martin Olsson’s own-goal gave the Baggies a seventh-minute lead before Marc-Antoine Fortune’s 69th minute close-range shot made the game safe.

Liam Ridgewell added a third five minutes from time.

Mid-table Fulham left the Bolton Wanderers looking over their shoulders at the drop zone with a 3-0 win that featured two first-half goals from Clint Dempsey before Mahmadou Diarra’s first goal for the Cottagers, 10 minutes from time, put the result beyond doubt.

Elsewhere, Everton and Norwich City shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw.

Bottom of the table Wolverhampton Wanderers were all but relegated after a 2-1 defeat away to Stoke City in Saturday’s late kick off — their sixth straight loss and third match in a row where they’d been beaten after taking the lead.

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