A 90th-minute goal by Javier Hernandez gave Manchester United a thrilling 4-3 victory at home to Newcastle United on Wednesday that put Alex Ferguson’s men seven points clear in the Premier League.
The leaders had to come from behind three times to win, and second-place Manchester City’s 1-0 loss at Sunderland meant that the traditional Boxing Day fixtures left United with plenty of reasons to feel thankful.
United were without Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck due to injury and illness, and they fell behind in the fourth minute when James Perch tapped in after David de Gea saved from Demba Ba.
Jonny Evans equalized in the 25th minute, sliding in after Tim Krul denied Hernandez, but the Northern Irishman undid his good work four minutes later when he inadvertently turned in Danny Simpson’s cross for an own-goal.
The goal was given despite Papiss Cisse lingering in an offside position behind Evans, and United manager Ferguson harangued referee Mike Dean and his officials as the teams returned for the second half.
Patrice Evra drew the hosts level just before the hour, driving in from the edge of the area to claim his fourth goal of the campaign, only for Cisse to restore Newcastle’s advantage by slamming home from 10m.
Robin van Van Persie equalized in the 71st minute and after Sammy Ameobi had hit the post for Newcastle, Hernandez ghosted into the visitors’ area to sweep home Michael Carrick’s pass and secure a potentially crucial victory.
“December is always a big month,” said Ferguson, whose side had been held 1-1 at Swansea City on Sunday.
“We dropped two points at Swansea, but we made up for it today. It was a real championship performance,” he said.
Ferguson also revealed that Rooney would be out for “two to three weeks” with knee ligament damage.
City’s loss at Sunderland was only their second defeat of the season and the result was rendered doubly damaging by events at Old Trafford.
The champions threatened first when returning captain Vincent Kompany hit the bar in the eighth minute, but the home side claimed the game’s only goal eight minutes into the second half.
Adam Johnson was the scorer, embarrassing his former City teammate Joe Hart with a low shot from wide on the right that squeezed inside the near post.
“It’s the same story for us at Sunderland every year,” said City manager Roberto Mancini, whose side lost 1-0 at the Stadium of Light last season.
“We missed five or six chances in the first half, and we need to score first in games sometimes. We can’t recover all the time,” he said.
Chelsea were also beneficiaries of City’s slip-up, prevailing 1-0 at Norwich City through a Juan Mata strike to close to within four points of Roberto Mancini’s men with a game in hand.
“We are in a good position,” Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez said. “It could be better. I feel we have done well in the last month — we are growing and progressing. We can manage different types of games and still get results, which could be really important.”
“We saw the other day [against Villa] we can play football, but in this game, we showed we can defend in difficult conditions,” he said.
Tottenham Hotspur broke into the top four by winning 4-0 at Aston Villa, with Gareth Bale registering his first Premier League hat-trick after Jermain Defoe had opened the scoring in the 57th minute.