United in control as title rivals slip

Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick as Manchester United seized control of the Premier League title race with a 4-2 victory over West Ham, while rivals Arsenal slipped up against Blackburn.

United's come-from-behind victory against the Hammers gave Sir Alex Ferguson's side a seven-point lead at the top as Arsenal's dismal run continued with a 0-0 draw against Blackburn in the late kick-off at the Emirates.

It was Arsenal's third consecutive draw and means that the title race is no longer in the hands of the Londoners, whose last league win was in February.

Earlier, United manager Ferguson said his side had shown championship-winning pedigree by coming back to take all three points after finding themselves 2-0 down at half-time.

"I thought we played like champions today," Ferguson said. "We kept our heads up, we didn't lose faith in our ability and that was a great boost. We dominated that second half and deserved to win. It was a real championship performance as far as I'm concerned."

West Ham had looked to be on course for a deserved victory after two early penalties from Mark Noble fired the Londoners into a 2-0 lead at Upton Park. But Rooney spearheaded a dramatic United transformation in the second half, curling in a superb free-kick on 65 minutes to throw the leaders a lifeline before levelling with a rasping low shot eight minutes later. Rooney then sealed his hat-trick with a 79th-minute penalty before substitute Javier Hernandez grabbed United's fourth.

We dominated that second half and deserved to win. It was a real championship performance as far as I'm concerned.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United coach

Day of draws
A good day for United got even better in the late game, as Arsenal dominated Blackburn, but were unable to land the knockout blow against a Rovers side reduced to ten men for the final 14 minutes after Stephen Nzonzi's dismissal.

Elsewhere Saturday, third placed Chelsea, who face United in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals next week, saw their hopes of mounting a late title charge dashed as they were held 1-1 at Stoke City.

Jon Walters fired Stoke ahead on eight minutes, surging past David Luiz near halfway before unleashing a shot beyond Chelsea keeper Petr Cech. But Chelsea got back on level terms just after the half hour mark with Didier Drogba powering in a diving header from a Nicolas Anelka cross.

Fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur also missed the chance to ramp up the pressure on fourth-placed Manchester City after being held to a 0-0 at bottom club Wigan.

Dramatic winner for West Brom
Meanwhile, West Bromwich Albion manager Roy Hodgson revelled in a 2-1 victory over former club Liverpool at the Hawthorns. The Baggies sealed victory in dramatic circumstances, skipper Chris Brunt scoring an 88th-minute penalty to put his team ahead, his second spot-kick of the match. Martin Skrtel had given Liverpool the lead on 50 minutes.

It was the first West Brom victory over Liverpool since 1981, but more importantly put Hodgson's side four points clear of the drop zone.

In a tumultuous match at Goodison Park, Everton grabbed a 2-2 draw courtesy of an 83rd-minute penalty from Leighton Baines. Baines equaliser was a form of justice served after David Moyes had a legitimate second half goal from Jermaine Beckford ruled out.

Everton took the lead through Leon Osman on 38 minutes before Darren Bent levelled just after half-time. Beckford thought he had given Everton the lead midway through the second half when his shot crashed off the underside of the bar and appeared to have crossed the line. But the match officials disallowed the goal and as Everton rued their misfortune, Villa swept upfield to score through Bent.

Birmingham City, meanwhile, eased their relegation fears with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Bolton at St Andrews. Birmingham took the lead after only four minutes at the Reebok Stadium, veteran striker Kevin Phillips lashing in from 16 yards after a corner from Sebastian Larsson. Craig Gardner made it 2-0 on 59 minutes before Johan Elmander pulled a goal back for Bolton.

Wolverhampton Wanderers' hopes of pulling clear of the relegation zone ended in a 4-1 loss at Newcastle.