United knocks Tottenham out of league title race

ROB HARRIS AP Sports Writer Published:

LONDON (AP) -- Manchester United effectively turned the Premier League season into a two-team race for the title Sunday by ending Tottenham's hopes, while Andre Villas-Boas paid the price for Chelsea's failure to compete.

United won 3-1 at Tottenham after Ashley Young set up Wayne Rooney's opener at the end of the first half before scoring a classy double himself after the break.

The victory put the defending champions two points behind leader Manchester City and 11 points ahead of third-place Tottenham.

Alex Ferguson knew his United side had initially ridden its luck at White Hart Lane.

"It's an entirely unbelievable result," the 70-year-old manager said. "I would say that's our hardest away game of the season ... and, in fairness, the first half we were never at the races. Maybe we got our tactics wrong.

"What we tried to do was come back off them and sit back a little bit and draw them onto us, and then play on the counterattack. But it didn't work. Second half, we pushed up more on them, challenged their back four better, and it did make a difference."

Tottenham's second home loss of the season left it just four points ahead of fourth-place Arsenal.

But with Chelsea three points further back in fifth, Villas-Boas was dismissed on Sunday by owner Roman Abramovich after eight months in charge.

"The results and performances of the team have not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season," Chelsea said in a statement.

First-team coach Roberto Di Matteo is taking charge of the Blues until the end of the season as Abramovich searches for his eighth permanent manager in nine years.

Di Matteo, a former Chelsea player and West Bromwich Albion manager, will have to keep an eye on Newcastle, which is only two points behind Chelsea after drawing 1-1 at Sunderland.

Ending the season in one of the four Champions League qualification places would represent a big victory for the 2010 Premier League champions. That would leave City and United to slug it out for the trophy.

United could have been behind on Sunday, but referee Martin Atkinson ruled that Emmanuel Adebayor had used his arm to control the ball before backheeling it into the net.

Rooney grabbed United's opener just before the break after sneaking in front of Tottenham defender Kyle Walker to head Young's corner into the net.

Spurs switched off again in the 61st minute when Phil Jones took a throw-in. Nani took the ball into the penalty area before finding Young with a deflected cross that he volleyed into the net.

United was gradually becoming more assertive, and Young found the target again when he curled a 25-yard (meter) shot beyond Friedel in the 69th minute.

"It's a massive, massive position that we're in now," Ferguson said. "And we've got players coming back. We'll have (Chris) Smalling ready for Thursday (against Athletic Bilbao), (Tom) Cleverley will be ready for next Sunday (against West Brom), (Antonio) Valencia will be ready in 10 days' time, should be ready for the Bilbao trip away from home ... if we get a big squad, it's going to give us a better chance."

At St. James' Park, Shola Ameobi came to Newcastle's rescue in stoppage time, leveling just minutes after teammate Demba Ba's penalty was saved by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

"It has been a mad week," Ameobi said. "I have had the flu and didn't expect to be involved today. It is just one of those games I tend to score in. It is such a fantastic feeling for me."

Nicklas Bendtner put Sunderland ahead from the penalty spot in the 24th, and the visitors managed to hang on until stoppage time despite having Stephane Sessegnon sent off in the 58th for lashing out at Cheick Tiote.

Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole was also dismissed after the final whistle for using foul and abusive language in arguing with referee Mike Dean.

At Craven Cottage, Fulham cruised to a third successive victory, with Pavel Pogrebnyak scoring a hat trick and Clint Dempsey grabbing two more in a 5-0 rout of relegation-threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers.