City sink Fulham to go three points clear
Manchester City put the title pressure back on Manchester United as a comfortable 3-0 victory over Fulham at Eastlands restored their three-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Saturday.
Roberto Mancini's side took an early lead through Sergio Aguero's penalty and Chris Baird's own goal increased their advantage before Edin Dzeko sealed the points in blizzard conditions in the second half.
Defending champions United now need to win their tricky trip to Chelsea on Sunday to move back level on points with City at the top.
City, searching for a 12th home victory in as many games this season, had the game under control inside the opening half hour.
Argentine forward Aguero capped an opening 10 minutes of unrelenting City pressure by starting the move that led to the opening penalty - then converting the resulting spot kick himself.
Aguero's dynamic run past Philippe Senderos ended with a pass to Adam Johnson, who was clearly tripped by Baird as he worked his way into the area.
It was no surprise that City took the early lead and Johnson might have had a second penalty when Baird tripped him on the touchline although this time referee Mike Dean took pity on the Northern Ireland international.
Joe Hart was finally called into action after 24 minutes when he dived smartly to smother a sharp 18-yard shot from Simon Davies and Damien Duff cut in from the right and curled a shot wide just to remind City that a second goal might be required.
But it was Schwarzer who was soon back under pressure as Silva's low shot flew across the face of goal and Johnson unleashed a wicked 20-yard strike which missed the right-hand post by inches.
A difficult task for Fulham, the last team to earn a league point at City's home ground almost a year ago, was rendered seemingly impossible just before the half-hour when Baird deflected Johnson's cross-shot into his own net.
After Baird's own goal, Aguero's snap shot was parried by the increasingly over-worked Mark Schwarzer and Dzeko was clean through again only to be blocked by Brede Hangeland as City looked to improve upon their pre-match six-goal advantage in the goal difference column over United.
As the snowy conditions worsened in the second half, Fulham finally showed a flicker of life as Clint Dempsey's shot was charged down by Joleon Lescott with the visitors appealing in vain for handball before Danny Murphy produced a shot from outside the area which Hart caught comfortably.
The heavy snow forced delays for the pitch markings to be cleared and the conditions briefly seemed to unsettle City.
Stephen Kelly's darting run and shot tested Hart, who momentarily saw the ball slip from his gloves in all the snow and ice and Baird's 20-yard free-kick beat the City wall and was smothered at the second attempt by the keeper in similar circumstances.
Aguero and City pushed for the comfort of a third goal and Murphy cleared an Aguero effort that was bound for the back of the net.
Dzeko finally settled lingering City nerves after 72 minutes with a goal which owed much to the creativity of Aguero, who sped past Senderos down the left and into the Fulham area before squaring for Dzeko to slot home.
The visitors might have pulled back a consolation after 77 minutes when a Bryan Ruiz corner struck Dzeko and hit the City post, while Hart showed his current dominant form with a late save from Duff.
The win re-established City's lead in the title race, although second-placed Manchester United can draw level with a victory at Chelsea on Sunday.
City boss Roberto Mancini said: "It was a good performance. The players were fantastic.
"It was very important to win after the defeat at Everton in midweek. It was important for our future.
"There are some difficult moments during the season. This can happen. I hope now we can continue to win all our games."
In other games Saturday, Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick as Arsenal silenced their critics with a seven-goal humiliation of Blackburn.
Disgruntled Arsenal fans had reportedly been planning protests at the Emirates after Arsene Wenger's side had slid to three consecutive league defeats and a disappointing draw at Bolton in midweek.
But Wenger's side responded to the disquiet amongst their supporters with a ruthless demolition of Rovers which saw them move up to fifth in the table.
Van Persie took his tally for the season to 28 after striking in the 2nd, 38th and 62nd minutes, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (2) and Mikel Arteta getting the other goals before substitute Thierry Henry completed the scoring.
Morten Gamst Pedersen was the lone scorer for Blackburn, who also had Gael Givet sent off for a wild challenge on van Persie just before half time.
The defeat left Blackburn firmly rooted in the relegation zone, two points adrift of safety in 19th place.
Wenger meanwhile praised the contribution of teenage winger Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"Alex was not ready earlier in the season but he has made a big step in the last months, he produces team play and is not only going forward but contributes to the build up and defending," Wenger said.
"He has improved very quickly and he is a fighter as well in his personality. He plays like a guy who had talent in September but is much more mature now."
Rovers' beleaguered boss Steve Kean was left bemoaning Givet's dismissal.
"It was a tough afternoon," Kean said. "When you try to compete with 11 men it's hard enough. The biggest bearing was the early goal and the sending off and the referee did not have a tough deciison to make."
Elsewhere Saturday, Norwich moved up to ninth place with a 2-0 win over struggling Bolton, second-half goals from Andrew Surman and Anthony Pilkington sealing the points for the Canaries at Carrow Road.
Queens Park Rangers striker Djibril Cisse followed up his debut goal for the club in midweek with a controversial red card as the Londoners slumped to a 2-1 defeat against Wolves at Loftus Road.
QPR had got off to a dream start when new signing Bobby Zamora opened his account for the club with a 16th-minute opener.
But Cisse's red card transformed the game as Wolves hit back to level through Matt Jarvis before Kevin Doyle fired Mick McCarthy's men into the lead.
QPR launched a furious late onslaught but Wolves held firm to clinch their first win in 10 games and move out of the relegation zone.
Sunderland recorded their third consecutive league victory - and their fifth in sixth games - with a 1-0 win at 10-man Stoke.
The Black Cats claimed all three points with a 60th-minute James McClean strike after Robert Huth was sent off for the home side at a snow-hit Britannia Stadium.
Newly-promoted Swansea moved into the top half of the table with a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
West Brom took the lead through a Marc-Antoine Fortune volley on 54 minutes before Swansea hit back to take the lead through Gylfi Sigurdsson and Danny Graham as the Welsh club moved up to 10th.
Everton striker Victor Anichebe grabbed a late equaliser as the Toffees battled to a 1-1 draw at bottom club Wigan.
Wigan took the lead through a Phil Neville own goal on 76 minutes, Everton keeper Tim Howard being deceived by a spinning ball after Neville had diverted Jean Beausejour's cross goalwards.
However, Everton levelled through Anichebe in the 83rd minute to give the Toffees a share of the points.
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