Manchester United set a new Premier League record with an 11th consecutive clean sheet and maintained their grip on top place in the table with a 5-0 demolition of bottom side West Brom on Tuesday.
The stroll at The Hawthorns left United three points clear of Liverpool, who were to play at Wigan last night, and Aston Villa, who moved up to joint second place with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Portsmouth.
It was also a good night for Tottenham, 3-1 winners over fellow strugglers Stoke, and Sunderland, who beat Fulham 1-0.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted with what he described as a “ruthless” display that enabled his side to significantly improve their goal difference, which he feels could prove decisive in what is a very tight title battle.
“The scoreline was very important to us,” the Scot said after watching his side improve their goal difference to plus 29, the same mark as Chelsea and seven better than Liverpool. “Goal difference could play a part and over the years we have always had an advantage over our opponents, so it was a satisfying result in that respect.”
United wasted no time in seizing control of the match.
With 21 minutes gone, Dimitar Berbatov played a one-two with Michael Carrick before slotting the ball past Scott Carson for his 11th goal of the season.
The Baggies then had defender Paul Robinson sent off for what was — perhaps harshly — adjudged to be a dangerous challenge on Park Ji-sung before Carlos Tevez doubled United’s lead just before half-time, firing in from close range after Carson dropped a Ryan Giggs freekick.
A Giggs corner enabled Nemanja Vidic to head in United’s third on the hour mark and a Cristiano Ronaldo double rounded off a performance that enabled United to eclipse Chelsea’s Premier League clean sheet record.
Emile Heskey marked his debut for Aston Villa with the only goal of the game at Portsmouth as Martin O’Neill’s men again displayed their ability to grind out results in their pursuit of a top-four finish and a place in next season’s Champions League.
Heskey latched on to Gabriel Agbonlahor’s flick-on from goalkeeper Brad Friedel’s clearance and fired past David James from just outside the area to start paying back the £3.5 million (US$5 million) it cost Villa to sign him from Wigan.
Tottenham pulled three points clear of the relegation zone with a convincing 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Stoke at White Hart Lane.
Trinidad and Tobago star Kenwyne Jones celebrated signing a new long-term contract with Sunderland by scoring his side’s winner against Fulham, who are rapidly sliding towards trouble after a positive start to this season.
Bayern Munich returned from their winter holidays looking as though they meant business judged by the way Jurgen Klinsmann’s men swept aside Vfb Stuttgart 5-1 on Tuesday. This last 16 German Cup tie was the reigning champions’ first official game of the year after a one-and-a half month lay-off, a training camp in the sunshine of Dubai and five friendly wins.
They were quickly into their stride though with Bastian Schweinsteiger starting the rout in the 14th minute.
Franck Ribery doubled up two minutes later and the France international then set up Luca Toni for Bayern’s third just before the break. Schweinsteiger got the second leg of his double from the penalty spot in the 53rd minute with Brazilian Ze Roberto completing a fine night for the visitors before the hour mark. This was Stuttgart’s first loss since Markus Babbel took over as coach in November.
Bayern’s league campaign resumes tomorrow with a trip to Hamburg, who earlier on Tuesday won their Cup tie against 1860 Munich 3-1, while Schalke 04 saw off minnows Poucet Iena 4-1.
Bundesliga winter champions Hoffenheim were eliminated in the previous round by Freiberg, who were defeated 3-1 by fellow second-division outfit Mainz.
■SCOTTISH LEAGUE CUP
Nacho Novo came in from the cold to fire a double as Rangers cruised into the Scottish League Cup final with a 3-0 win over Falkirk at Hampden on Tuesday.
The Spanish striker, making only his ninth start of the season, had Rangers ahead within 10 minutes and got his second just before the break.
A howler from Falkirk’s new Spanish keeper Dani Mallo with just two minutes remaining allowed Kris Boyd to roll home his 23rd goal of the season and send the Ibrox club into the final, where they await the winners of yesterday’s clash between Celtic and Dundee United.