The race for the Premier League title was blown wide open when leaders Chelsea had two players sent off in a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa on Saturday, and Manchester City overcame a red card to win 2-0 at Hull City.
Chelsea also had manager Jose Mourinho sent to the stands in stoppage time as the match exploded into life in the last few minutes, but the normally loquacious Portuguese bit his tongue after the game.
“I prefer not to talk,” he told Sky Sports television. “If I talk I will bring the game into disrepute and I don’t want to be in big trouble.”
Mourinho was clearly unhappy Brazil midfielder Willian was sent off by referee Chris Foy for a minor shoving offense, his second caution, in the 68th minute — a decision that played a key role in deciding the match’s outcome.
Second-placed Manchester City, who had skipper Vincent Kompany dismissed for hauling back Hull striker Nikica Jelavic after 10 minutes, won with goals from David Silva and Edin Dzeko.
City had started the day nine points behind Chelsea with three matches in hand, but cut the gap to six points after Fabian Delph back-heeled a clever winner for Villa in the 82nd minute.
Chelsea have 66 points with eight matches to play, while City are on 60 with 11 games remaining.
Liverpool, third on 59 points, and Arsenal, fourth on the same total, have 10 games to go.
Chelsea’s second red card was handed to Brazil midfielder Ramires in stoppage time for a two-footed stamp on Karim El Ahmadi that Villa manager Paul Lambert described as “a leg-breaker.”
Manchester City went to Hull after a bad week during which they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Wigan Athletic and eliminated from the Champions League by Barcelona, but they may now have the upper hand in the Premier League title race.
“It was a very difficult week,” City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. “We needed to win today and playing with one player less for 80 minutes was very difficult.”
Midfielder Nemanja Matic forced the ball home at the far post just before half-time, but the goal was ruled out because he handled.
“It was a good solid performance against a good team,” Mourinho said. “Defensively we were really strong. “We had no problems with the danger from Aston Villa, but apart from that I don’t want to comment.”
Villa manager Lambert was delighted with his team’s display, but condemned Ramires.
After describing Delph’s goal as “world class,” he said: “I have just seen the Ramires dismissal again and that was a shocker.”
“That was a leg-breaker... The first sending-off was debatable, but the second one was a no-brainer,” Lambert added.
The other results on Saturday had more of an impact at the wrong end of the table and left the bottom nine clubs separated by seven points, from West Ham United in 12th place on 31 points to basement side Fulham on 24.
West Ham lost 3-1 at Stoke City, while Fulham beat Newcastle United, without suspended manager Alan Pardew, 1-0 at Craven Cottage with a second-half winner from Ashkan Dejagah.
Crystal Palace are 17th after drawing 0-0 at Sunderland, who are third from bottom in 18th.
West Bromwich Albion snapped a seven-match losing streak with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory at Swansea City.
Goals from Stephane Sessegnon and Youssouf Mulumbu helped West Brom climb to 16th.
Cardiff City lost 2-1 at Everton, where Seamus Coleman scored the winner with almost the last kick of the game, and are 19th with an immediate return to the Championship looking increasingly likely.
Two late goals could not save 15th-placed Norwich City from a 4-2 defeat at Southampton.
Norwich have one of the toughest schedules of fixtures at the back end of the season.