Manchester United inches closer to title

Chelsea held to a draw by Everton

MANCHESTER: Manchester United moved closer to a third straight Premier League title on Wednesday after beating Portsmouth 2-0 to go three points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand.

The threat from Chelsea lessened as Guus Hiddink’s side was held 0-0 by Everton in Wednesday’s other Premier League fixture to slip six points adrift having played a game more than United.

Wayne Rooney scored after nine minutes and Michael Carrick fired low past Portsmouth goalkeeper David James in the 82nd to ensure Manchester United would take advantage of Liverpool’s 4-4 draw with Arsenal on Tuesday.

“It’s a boost for us,” Carrick said. “Watching the game last night (Tuesday) and seeing that result we were desperate to put on a good performance and win tonight.

“We’ve got three points and we are in a decent position so hopefully we can get the momentum up until the end of the season and put the title to bed as quickly as we can.”

With six games remaining, Manchester United tops the standings with 74 points, followed by Liverpool (71) and Chelsea (68).

Sir Alex Ferguson made nine changes from the inexperienced side that lost Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal to Everton on penalties.

Rooney, who returned to the side, operated as the lone striker and tapped into the net after Ryan Giggs, in his 799th appearance for Manchester United, latched on to Anderson’s lofted ball and went past Glen Johnson before squaring to the unmarked England international.

The Red Devils were firmly in control of the match, but were frustrated by David James in the Portsmouth goal.

Manchester United took until the 82nd minute to score again, with substitute Carrick firing into the far corner after running on to Paul Scholes’s precise through-ball from the halfway line. The 34-year-old Scholes was making his 600th appearance for Manchester United where he has spent his entire career.

Lacking inspiration

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea lacked inspiration and took until injury time to produce its best chance when Didier Drogba hit the crossbar.

Everton failed to capitalise on a string of first-half chances, notably from forward Jo who was loaned from Manchester City in January.

The Brazilian saw a third-minute shot fly straight at Petr Cech and then the goalkeeper used his feet to stop the ball as Jo ran clear on goal.

Chelsea only began to drive forward with more purpose after a double substitution midway through the second half.

Nicolas Anelka and Michael Essien were replaced by Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel.

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was called into action immediately when Chelsea captain John Terry picked up the ball at halfway mark, raced forward and struck the ball from 30 yards to force the American into a diving save.

The results: Chelsea drew with Everton 0-0; Manchester United 2 (Rooney 9, Carrick 82) bt Portsmouth 0. — AP

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