Chelsea's defensive frailties cost two valuable points in their
quest for a hat-trick of Premier League titles on Tuesday when a
Michael Essien own goal gave Reading a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Leaders Manchester United took full advantage later in the day,
extending the gap at the top to four points by cruising past Wigan
Athletic 3-1 at Old Trafford with Cristiano Ronaldo continuing his
hot streak with two more goals.
United have 50 points from 20 games while Chelsea have 46.
Arsenal, who beat Watford 2-1, replaced Liverpool in third place
with 36 points, the same total as Bolton Wanderers who edged
Newcastle United 2-1.
Liverpool dropped to sixth as their remote title hopes
disappeared with a 1-0 defeat at Blackburn Rovers which left them
16 points behind United.
Benni McCarthy struck for Blackburn, who had not beaten
Liverpool in 17 attempts.
In the absence of influential captain John Terry, Chelsea have
conceded six goals in three league matches and manager Jose
Mourinho says he does not know how long the defender will be
"I have no idea when John Terry will be back, nobody has told me
if he is going for back surgery, if it will be three days, three
weeks or three months," said Mourinho, who was also without
midfielders Joe Cole and Arjen Robben.
"The big problem is when you lose more than one crucial
player...to lose (goalkeeper) Petr (Cech) and John is a big problem
for us. At this moment we are conceding too many goals.
"Normally Chelsea in three consecutive matches have three clean
sheets but in the last three we have let in six goals," Mourinho
When Reading and Chelsea met in October the game was marred by a
serious head injury to Cech.
Didier Drogba's 11th and 12th league goals of the season seemed
to have sealed victory for Chelsea on Tuesday.
But Reading, who had equalised after 67 minutes through Leroy
Lita's stooping header, got a deserved point when Ashley Cole's
clearence hit Essien and flew past helpless keeper Hilario five
minutes from time.
Ronaldo began on the bench for United but came on after the
break to head his side in front after 47 minutes. The Portuguese
winger then took his league tally to 10 goals when he knocked in
the rebound after Chris Kirkland had saved his penalty.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made it 3-0 before Leighton Baines pulled
one back for Wigan from the penalty spot.
"I was very pleased with the start to the second half," said
United manager Alex Ferguson. "The form (Ronaldo's) in, he can
always change a game."
Despite the win guaranteeing United would go into the New Year
top of the league, Ferguson sounded a note of caution.
"We've got a lot of roads to travel yet and there will be points
dropped, United and Chelsea will both drop points," he said.
Arsenal needed a late winner from Robin van Persie at bottom
club Watford to maintain their distant pursuit of the top two.
Gilberto Silva had given the Gunners a 19th-minute lead before
Tommy Smith replied for the home side four minutes later.
Watford are nine points adrift of safety and a point behind
second-bottom Charlton Athletic, who host Fulham on Wednesday in
Alan Pardew's first game in charge.
Nicolas Anelka scored Bolton's winner as his side clocked up a
fourth successive victory while Portsmouth, who this time last year
were deep in a relegation battle, are in fifth place after a headed
double from Linvoy Primus gave them a 2-1 win at West Ham
Tottenham Hotspur claimed a 12th consecutive home victory when
Jermain Defoe struck twice in a 2-1 defeat of Aston Villa.
Manchester City eased relegation worries with a 1-0 win at
fellow strugglers Sheffield United while Everton drew 0-0 at home
(China Daily via Reuters December 27, 2006)