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 Wanderers on Saturday, while title rivals Arsenal had to settle for a 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion.
With Sir Alex Ferguson watching from the stands as the United manager served the first of his five-match touchline ban, his side's hopes of breaking down an obdurate Bolton defence suffered a blow in the second half when centre-back Jonny Evans was shown a straight red card by referee Andre Marriner for a dangerous tackle on Stuart Holden.
But 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. Ferguson said: "You've got to admire the character of the players. The fans were fantastic, but the players take great credit. They have come through a tough programme and deserve all the credit they get."
Arsenal woeful at West Brom
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 Carling Cup final and crashed out of the UEFA Champions League and 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 equaliser eight minutes later when he converted as he challenged Abdoulaye Meite.
"It was a game where we needed to show lots of character and resilience in a football match which was played on a rugby pitch," Wenger said. "It was more about character than football. We made a massive mistake on the second goal and you cannot afford to do that. But we have shown we are ready to fight."
Elsewhere, Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier endured a miserable end to a depressing week as Wolverhampton Wanderers won 1-0 at Villa Park. Matt Jarvis piled on the misery for Houllier when he fired third-bottom Wolves ahead with a stunning volley in the 38th minute.
Blackburn battle back
At Ewood Park, Blackburn Rovers 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 half-time and Junior Hoillett hit the equaliser in the 90th minute.
Carling Cup winners Birmingham City crashed into the relegation zone after losing 2-1 at bottom-of-the-table Wigan Athletic. 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 equalised before Maynor Figueroa struck a 90th-minute winner.
Stoke City cruised to a 4-0 victory over Newcastle United at the Britannia Stadium, with the goals scored by Jonathan Walters, Jermaine Pennant, Danny Higginbotham and Ricardo Fuller. Everton won their mid-table 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 United rode their luck to escape with a 0-0 draw against London rivals Tottenham Hotspur 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.