South Africa striker Benni McCarthy scored twice as Blackburn Rovers began life under new manager Sam Allardyce with a 3-0 win at home over Stoke City on Saturday. The victory was only Rovers's fourth in 18 English Premier League matches and came three days after former Bolton and Newcastle boss Allardyce replaced the sacked Paul Ince. Despite a win, which ended a run of six straight defeats, Rovers remained in the relegation zone.
At the other end of the table, Aston Villa climbed above champions Manchester United, playing Ecuador's Liga de Quito in Sunday's Club World Cup final in Tokyo, into third place after an own goal from Australia defender Lucas Neill 12 minutes from time secured a 1-0 win away to West Ham. Saturday's late kick-off at Upton Park was heading for a goalless draw until James Milner cross's deflected off Neill and looped over keeper Robert Green. Victory moved Villa on to 34 points, two more than United, although Sir Alex Ferguson's side have two games in hand.
Sunderland climbed out of the bottom three with a 4-1 win away to high-flyers Hull while Bolton beat Portsmouth, 2-1. Fulham recorded their sixth home league win in nine games this seasonwith a 3-0 victory over Middlesbrough. Sunday sees leaders Liverpool go in search of their first victory at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium while Newcastle and Tottenham, both on the fringes of the relegation zone, meet at St James' Park. Manchester City, in the bottom three after Sunderland's victory, travel to basement club West Bromwich Albion. Second-place Chelsea are away to Everton on Monday.
McCarthy put Rovers ahead at Ewood Park with a ninth-minute penalty after Ibrahima Sonko fouled Morten Gamst Pedersen. Jason Roberts added a second after Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross diverted a cross from Brett Emerton into the striker's path. McCarthy, on his 100th appearance for Rovers, made it 3-0 before the half-hour mark after being played in by forward Roberts.
A modest Allardyce played down his part in Rovers's win, telling Sky Sports: "I just tried to give the lads a few pointers, so I have made a small contribution today, but the big contribution came from the players out there. Three-nil after 27 minutes, what more do you want?"
Portsmouth, who had conceded eight goals in their previous four league matches, were 2-0 down inside three minutes at Reebok Stadium. Former Portsmouth midfielder Matt Taylor put Bolton ahead in the first minute when. After Kevin Davies flicked on a long ball, Taylor lobbed the ball over a defender and volleyed home. Two minutes later, Taylor turned provider to set up Ricardo Gardner. But England striker Peter Crouch pulled a goal back for Portsmouth with a 20th minute header before both teams spurned chances for further goals.
Steed Malbranque put visitors Sunderland ahead in the 10th minute with a 25-yard shot. But local hero Nick Barmby equalised for Hull nine minutes later. However Sunderland restored their lead 12 minutes from time when a hot from Kieran Richardson deflected off Kamil Zayatte for an own goal. Hull's day then got worse when Sam Ricketts was sent-off for a second bookable offence. Kenwyne Jones made it 3-1 six minutes from the finish. Djibril Cisse added a fourth goal, which took Sunderland's tally under caretaker boss Ricky Sbragia, who stepped in after Roy Keane's exit, to eight goals in two games.
Sunderland's success saw them complete back-to-back wins for the first time this season and took their tally under Sbragia, who took charge after Roy Keane's departure from the Stadium of Light, to eight goals in two games following last weekend's 4-0 thrashing of basement club West Brom. Sbragia was coy when asked if he wanted the manager's job on a permanent basis, saying: "I'm enjoying it but I am still learning."
Unsettled midfielder Jimmy Bullard put Fulham in front four minutes before half-time at Craven Cottage when he followed up after Bobby Zamora's shot was blocked by goalkeeper Ross Turnbull. By that stage Boro were fortunate to still have 11 men on the pitch after Julio Arca escaped a red card for a wild challenge on Andy Johnson.
But Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate replaced Arca at half-time with Egypt striker Mido. Goals though kept coming for Fulham instead. Danny Murphy made it 2-0 on a penalty kick for handball before United States international Clint Dempsey added a third on the hour.