Tottenham loses, Chelsea wins in race for third

STEVE DOUGLAS AP Sports Writer Published:

LONDON (AP) -- Tottenham blew open the race for the final two Champions League spots in the Premier League on Saturday, slumping to a third straight loss as Chelsea closed on its London rival thanks to Didier Drogba's 100th goal in England's top division.

Spurs' hold on third place loosened after Nikica Jelavic's winner in a 1-0 defeat at Everton, allowing fifth-place Chelsea to move within four points after Drogba's second-half goal in a 1-0 win over 10-man Stoke.

The battle to avoid relegation, meanwhile, was tinged with controversy after Queens Park Rangers was denied a headed goal by Clint Hill that clearly crossed the line in the match against fellow struggler Bolton, reigniting the debate over goal-line technology.

The incident occurred with the score at 0-0 and QPR went on to lose 2-1 by conceding a late goal, taking Bolton's place in the bottom three with just 10 games remaining.

"We can't have key moments in games being officiated in the way they are at the moment," QPR manager Mark Hughes said. "No excuse, because it wasn't a close decision."

Wolverhampton Wanderers stayed in the drop zone after losing 2-0 at home to relegation rival Blackburn.

Liverpool lost 1-0 at Sunderland thanks to Nicklas Bendtner's 56th-minute goal to leave the League Cup winners 10 points off Chelsea and Arsenal, which hosts Newcastle on Monday.

In the day's other match, Fulham missed the chance to draw level on points with seventh-place Liverpool by conceding a last-minute goal in a 1-0 loss at Aston Villa.

With title rivals Manchester City and Manchester United not playing until Sunday, the focus at the top of the standings was on the race for third and fourth.

Chelsea's faltering form under Andre Villas-Boas led to the Portuguese coach being fired last weekend and replaced by Roberto Di Matteo until the end of season, with the team having dropped out of the top four.

The Italian's first match in charge was a 2-0 victory over Birmingham in an FA Cup fifth-round replay on Tuesday and he followed that up with a narrow win over Stoke, which played more than an hour a man light after Ricardo Fuller's sending-off for a stamp on Branislav Ivanovic's groin in the 25th.

Chelsea hit the bar twice before Drogba, a day before his 34th birthday, collected a pass from substitute Juan Mata, rounded goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and slotted in his finish in the 68th for a milestone goal.

"With the events of the last week, it was important for us to get that win," Di Matteo said. "You could feel a bit of nervousness but better times will come."

Tottenham was a title contender a month ago but has now lost to Arsenal, United and Everton, meaning a top-four place is no longer guaranteed.

Jelavic scored the only goal on his full debut, stretching Everton's unbeaten run to eight games.

Liverpool extended its poor run in the league to just one win in eight games with a poor defeat at the Stadium of Light, with Kenny Dalglish's team barely having a chance of note.

Bendtner, who was carried off on a stretcher late on after clashing with Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, scored when Fraizer Campbell's low shot came off the post. The ball hit Liverpool goalkeeper Jose Reina on his head and rebounded back onto the goal frame, allowing the Denmark striker to crash home.

Liverpool stayed seventh, five points behind sixth-place Newcastle.

Hughes couldn't contain his frustration after seeing a poor decision potentially rob his team of crucial points in the battle against relegation.

"Obviously, from our point of view, to have that clear goal chalked off was a significant moment," Hughes said. "Don't underestimate the significance of scoring first."

French striker Djibril Cisse equalized for QPR two minutes after the break to cancel out Darren Pratley's opener in the 37th, but Ivan Klasnic grabbed the winner in the 85th.

Bolton is a point above QPR and Wolves and two points behind fifth-bottom Blackburn. Wigan is bottom ahead of its game in hand at Norwich on Sunday.