Manchester United reclaimed a seven-point lead at the top of the English Premier League after coming from behind to beat Newcastle United 2-1 at St James' Park. Wins for Liverpool and Chelsea 24 hours earlier had encouraged thoughts of the title battle being opened up once more and Peter Lovenkrands ninth-minute opener for Newcastle would have triggered huge cheers on Merseyside and in West London.
However, the stumble United's rivals had hoped for failed to materialise on a night that saw Manchester City dent Aston Villa's hopes of securing UEFA Champions League football next season with a 2-0 win at Eastlands.
Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson admitted his side had not been at their best but paid tribute to his players' determination. "It wasn't a great performance," admitted the Scot. "We got off to a terrible start, and Newcastle were pumped up for it. But coming from 1-0 down was a good result for us. It required a lot of grit."
United's win restored their seven-point lead and the champions also have a game in hand to help them close out a third straight English title. Newcastle ended Edwin van der Sar's record-breaking run without conceding a goal in a league match but were unable to defend their early lead. The Magpies caused the visitors serious problems in an impressive 20-minute opening spell which yielded the strike from Danish winger Lovenkrands, the first league goal conceded by Dutch keeper Van der Sar in 1,311 minutes of play.
Having weathered the storm, Manchester United equalised after Dimitar Berbatov set up Wayne Rooney for a 20th-minute strike and, ten minutes after the interval, the Bulgarian striker found the net himself with a tap-in from Park Ji-Sung's cross.
Elano celebrated his return to Manchester City's starting line-up by netting a first-half penalty as City ended Villa's run of ten consecutive away victories in the league with a 2-0 win at Eastlands. With Robinho and Craig Bellamy sidelined by injury, City boss Mark Hughes opted to recall the out-of-favour Brazilian playmaker and he repaid the manager with a cool penalty conversion after James Milner had tripped Shaun Wright-Phillips.
England winger Wright-Phillips sealed City's fifth successive home win two minutes from time to leave Villa with just a three-point cushion over Arsenal in the battle for fourth place and the final Champions League qualifying spot.
Stoke followed up last weekend's fightback against Villa with a 2-0 win over Bolton that lifts them out of the relegation zone and dented their opponents' hopes of staying clear of the survival dogfight. A well-taken early strike by James Beattie was followed by a late strike from Ricardo Fuller.
Spurs and Hammers on song
Tottenham bounced back from Sunday's penalty shoot-out defeat by Manchester United in the League Cup final with a 4-0 win over Middlesbrough that significantly eases their survival concerns and leaves Gareth Southgate's side mired in the relegation zone. Robbie Keane opened the scoring with his first strike for Spurs since his January return from Liverpool. Roman Pavlyuchenko doubled the lead and a brace for Aaron Lennon saw Harry Redknapp's side cruise towards safety.
West Ham's push for European football next season received another boost with a hard-fought win at Wigan in a match that both sides ended with ten men.Carlton Cole gave West Ham the lead then got himself sent off before half-time for a second bookable offence. But the Hammers held on for all three points, with the help of Wigan being reduced to ten men themselves seven minutes after the restart as a result of Lee Cattermole's reckless challenge on Scott Parker.
Blackburn earned a valuable point by holding Everton to a goalless draw but Sam Allardyce's side still found themselves back in the bottom three because of Stoke's win.
A stoppage time winner by substitute Manucho, the Angolan striker on loan from Manchester United, earned Hull an unlikely 1-0 win at Fulham and halted Phil Brown's side's slide towards trouble. It was scarcely deserved but Hull fans will not complain after a win that could look very important at the end of the season.