Federico Macheda rode to Manchester United's rescue again as the champions kept their noses in front of Liverpool at the top of the Premier League with a nervy 2-1 win at Sunderland today. The Red Devils came within 15 minutes of dropping two points at the Stadium of Light before substitute Macheda, with his first touch, claimed the winner, prompting Sir Alex Ferguson to describe him as "something special".
Macheda's deflection of a Michael Carrick shot came six days after he scored a sensational stoppage-time winner against Aston Villa, and Ferguson admitted those two goals could prove very important by the end of the season. "It was a big three points because it's not easy here," the Scot observed. "They put us under a lot of pressure and we've ground out a good result. The boy has something special about him."
The defeat left Sunderland in deep trouble at the opposite end of the table but their manager, Ricky Sbragia, was encouraged by a battling display in which Kenwyne Jones cancelled out Paul Scholes's first-half header.
Reds and Blues keep pace
As well as their one-point lead, United have a game in hand over Liverpool, who bounced back from their UEFA Champions League reverse by Chelsea by knocking four goals past Blackburn Rovers without reply. That was Rafa Benitez's cue to claim United were feeling the heat generated by his side's league form. "Ferguson is always talking so that means that they are under pressure," the Spaniard said.
Fernando Torres was the architect of Liverpool's win with two first-half goals, a memorable volley and a header. A long-range strike from Danish centreback Daniel Agger and a last-minute effort from young forward David Ngog sealed the points on a day when Anfield remembered the 96 supporters who died in the Hillsborough disaster of 15 April 1989.
Chelsea kept their own title hopes alive but came close to self-destructing in a 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers. Michael Ballack's first-half strike, and a Didier Drogba double either side of a Frank Lampard penalty, had Chelsea cruising at 4-0 with 20 minutes left.
But three goals in the space of eight minutes, from Andy O'Brien, Chris Basham and Matt Taylor, ensured Guus Hiddink's side were left hanging on desperately at the end. "We got very sloppy," was the Dutchman's verdict on his side's near collapse, which will have given Liverpool hope ahead of their Champions League second leg on Tuesday.
Arsenal's long unbeaten run in the league appeared under threat after Mido gave Wigan Athletic a half-time lead at the JJB Stadium. But the Gunners cut loose in the final half-hour, with Theo Walcott, Mikael Silvestre, Andriy Arshavin and Alexandre Song all finding the net in a 4-1 win that consolidated the Gunners' grip on fourth place.
Toon held, Boro triumph
At the other end of the table, Newcastle United's hopes of escaping relegation were dashed. Alan Shearer's side needed a late equaliser from substitute Andy Carroll to earn a 1-1 draw at Stoke City, for whom former Magpies midfielder Abdoulaye Faye opened the scoring.
The point left Newcastle level on points with Middlesbrough, who gave their survival hopes a huge shot in the arm with a 3-1 win over Hull City. Tuncay Sanli's third-minute strike was cancelled out by a header from Hull's on-loan Angolan striker Manucho, but Matthew Bates toe-poked in Stewart Downing's corner to give Boro a half-time lead, and Marlon King sealed the points late on.
Portsmouth blew a chance to pull further clear of the drop zone after a 2-2 draw at home to bottom side West Bromwich Albion, while Russia striker Roman Payluchenko scored the only goal in Tottenham Hotspur's 1-0 win over West Ham United.