Rooney’s brace sinks the Saints

Reuters, LONDON

Fri, Feb 01, 2013 - Page 20

Wayne Rooney maintained Manchester United’s handy knack of overturning deficits with two goals as the leaders beat Southampton 2-1 at Old Trafford to move seven points clear in the Premier League on Wednesday.

Champions Manchester City’s 0-0 draw at bottom club Queens Park Rangers 24 hours earlier paved the way for United to widen the gap, but Jay Rodriguez silenced the home crowd after three minutes, before Rooney’s brace restored order before halftime.

Apart from Everton, the clubs battling for top-four finishes and UEFA Champions League qualification suffered frustration, none more so than third-placed Chelsea, who threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at struggling Reading, for whom substitute Adam Le Fondre struck twice in the closing stages.

Chelsea remain four points clear of Tottenham Hotspur, who needed a Gareth Bale equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Norwich City, while sixth-placed Arsenal drew 2-2 at home to Liverpool, having trailed 2-0 with 30 minutes remaining.

Luis Suarez gave Liverpool an early lead and Jordan Henderson made it 2-0 on the hour mark after some terrible Arsenal defending, but Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott earned the Gunners a deserved point.

Fifth-placed Everton cashed in on the dropped points of those around them in the table with a 2-1 home victory over West Bromwich Albion to move one point behind Spurs, three clear of the Gunners and six ahead of Liverpool.

In a London derby, Fulham beat West Ham United 3-1.

Eight of United’s previous 18 league wins this season had come from losing positions and they needed to dig in again after Rodriquez punished a poor Michael Carrick back-pass to give Southampton a dream start at a ground where they had lost on 15 of their previous 16 visits.

United were stunned into life, though, and were level five minutes later when Shinji Kagawa’s defense-splitting pass was finished stylishly by Rooney.

The England striker then tapped in from close range after 27 minutes, but the expected United domination failed to materialize as Southampton made it an awkward night for the leaders.

“Winning is the name of the game at this stage of the season,” United manager Alex Ferguson said.

“For the first 30 minutes, I thought we were fantastic, we played really well, but in the second half Southampton have been the best team to play here this season. We were fortunate to win the game,” he added.

Chelsea took the lead on the stroke of halftime through Juan Mata and Frank Lampard’s thumping header should have secured the points for Rafa Benitez’s team, but they suffered a late ambush.

Le Fondre, who came on after 66 minutes, drilled in a shot after 87 minutes and deep into stoppage-time he calmly side-footed his side’s equalizer to move his side out of the bottom three.