Ten-man Manchester United moved five points clear at the top of the Premier League as Dimitar Berbatov’s late goal clinched a 1-0 win over Bolton on Saturday.
Title rivals Arsenal, meanwhile, had to settle for a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion.
With Sir Alex Ferguson watching from the stands as the United boss served the first of his five-match touchline ban, his side’s hopes of breaking down an obdurate Bolton defense suffered a blow in the second half when centerback Jonathan Evans was shown a straight red card by referee Andre Marriner for a dangerous tackle on Stuart Holden.
However, the leaders produced another of their regular late rallies and Bulgarian forward Berbatov came off the bench to bag the 88th-minute winner after Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen spilled Nani’s shot.
That dramatic late intervention increased United’s lead thanks to Arsenal’s latest stumble at the Hawthorns.
Arsene Wenger’s side have already lost the League Cup final, crashed out of the Champions League and the FA Cup in the last month, and now even a win in their game in hand on United would leave them two points off the top.
The second-placed Gunners suffered a nightmare start as Steven Reid headed Albion into the lead with a third-minute header from Chris Brunt’s corner.
A shambolic piece of goalkeeping from Manuel Almunia allowed Roy Hodgson’s team to double their lead in the 58th minute, with Peter Odemwingie rolling the ball into an empty net after the Spaniard had charged from his line.
Andrei Arshavin gave Arsenal a lifeline with a stunning strike in the 70th minute and Robin van Persie claimed the equalizer eight minutes later when he converted as he challenged Abdoulaye Meite.
Elsewhere, Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier endured a miserable end to a depressing week as Wolves won 1-0 at Villa Park.
Villa defenders Richard Dunne and James Collins were fined this week for criticizing Houllier’s coaching staff in a restaurant row.
Neither player featured, while Villa fans unfurled a banner demanding that Houllier be fired.
Matt Jarvis piled on the misery for Houllier when he fired third-bottom Wolves ahead with a stunning volley in the 38th minute.
At Ewood Park, Blackburn battled back from two goals down to a salvage a 2-2 draw against local rivals Blackpool.
Charlie Adam put Blackpool 2-0 up with a controversial penalty and a stunning free-kick, but Christopher Samba reduced the deficit just after halftime and Junior Hoillett hit the equalizer in the 90th minute.
League Cup winners Birmingham crashed into the relegation zone after losing 2-1 at bottom-of-the-table Wigan.
Alex McLeish’s team opened the scoring in the sixth minute when defender Liam Ridgewell smashed in, but on-loan Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley equalized, before Maynor Figueroa struck a 90th-minute winner.
Stoke cruised to a 4-0 victory over Newcastle at the Britannia Stadium, with the goals scored by Jonathan Walters, Jermaine Pennant, Danny Higginbotham and Ricardo Fuller.
Everton won their midtable battle with Fulham as goals from Seamus Coleman and Louis Saha sealed a 2-1 victory at Goodison Park.
Fulham midfielder Clint Dempsey got one back in the 62nd minute, but David Moyes’ men held on.
In the day’s early kick-off, West Ham rode their luck to escape with a 0-0 draw against London rivals Tottenham that moved them out of the bottom three.
Avram Grant’s side gave a gritty display at White Hart Lane, but they needed some good fortune to avoid defeat as Tottenham hit the woodwork three times through Michael Dawson, Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale.