Liverpool did traditional rival Manchester United a huge favour in the English Premier League yesterday, holding Manchester City to a 2-2 draw to leave the stuttering champions nine points behind their neighbours in the title race.
Sergio Aguero's 79th-minute equaliser earned City a scarcely deserved point that will be of little comfort to manager Roberto Mancini, whose team has now dropped four points in six days and is struggling to keep pace with United's relentless form.
"Seven or nine points doesn't change (anything), I think we can recover it," Mancini said.
Tottenham beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in the other game, thanks to another superb goal from star winger Gareth Bale, and are now just a point behind third-place Chelsea.
The game turned on the sending-off of West Brom defender Goran Popov in the 48th minute, for spitting in the direction of Spurs right back Kyle Walker, with Bale scoring 19 minutes later.
"I'm absolutely disgusted with Goran's behaviour," West Brom manager Steve Clarke said. "There's no excuse for that. There's no place for it in life, never mind on a football pitch."
Liverpool stayed seventh - nine points behind Spurs and six adrift of local fifth-place Everton, which occupy the league's sole Europa League spot - and are still awaiting a victory over a team in the top half of the table this season.
But after a draw at Arsenal last Wednesday and another point at City, Liverpool are gathering momentum ahead of some easier games in the run-in.
"We have come to the home of the champions and dominated," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said, "(but) we know we can be better."
City produced one of their poorest performances at home this season and couldn't cope with the pace and movement of Liverpool forwards Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez.
Sturridge - a recent signing from Chelsea - stood out, cancelling out Edin Dzeko's 23rd-minute opener with a fiercely struck equaliser six minutes later and causing havoc with the home defence.
"I feel like I am maturing a bit, getting a bit fitter," said Sturridge, who nevertheless finished the match with strapping around his left thigh.
Steven Gerrard rifled home a dipping volley in the 73rd to leave City on the brink of only their second home loss this season, but Aguero came to the rescue by running on to Gareth Barry's cross, rounding goalkeeper Pepe Reina and finding the net from an acute angle.
"In the last month we played well in all the games but we were so nervous in this game and I don't know why," said Mancini, who was missing injured captain Vincent Kompany and key midfielder Yaya Toure.
Popov's straight red card was set to provide the major talking point at the Hawthorns before Bale took centre stage, drifting inside and smashing home a swerving shot from outside the area for his 11th goal of the campaign.
It was the second superb goal he has scored this week, after his solo strike in a 1-1 draw at Norwich last Wednesday when he ran 60 yards before finding the net.
"I am enjoying my football at the moment and when I am doing that I usually play well," Bale said.
Tottenham are now within reach of Chelsea, which lost 3-2 at Newcastle on Saturday.
ARSENAL 1 STOKE CITY 0
GOAL:- ARSENAL: PODOLSKI 78th.
Substitute Lukas Podolski's deflected free kick earned Arsenal a controversial victory at the Emirates Stadium. Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic produced a series of fine saves before Podolski struck in the closing stages. However, after the assistant referee ruled the goal out for offside, referee Chris Foy overturned the decision as Podolski's set piece went in off Geoff Cameron to take the points for the Gunners.
EVERTON 3 ASTON VILLA 3
GOALS:- EVERTON: ANICHEBE 21st; FELLAINI 69th, 90th. VILLA: BENTEKE 2nd, 61st; AGBONLAHOR 24th.
Marouane Fellaini produced a towering second-half display, scoring twice as Everton came from 3-1 down to deny Aston Villa their first league win of 2013. Christian Benteke fired Villa ahead, only for Victor Anichebe to bring Everton level. But two headers, the first from Gabriel Agbonlahor and a brave second from Benteke, set Villa on course for victory. But Fellaini fired a low shot beyond goalkeeper Brad Guzan and with the final whistle near, the Belgian leapt to head in Leighton Baines' corner and deny Villa three vital points.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1
GOAL:- UNITED: ROONEY 79th.
Wayne Rooney's late winner at Fulham helped Manchester United extend their Barclays Premier League lead to 10 points. Rooney surged forward after 78 minutes to meet a Jonny Evans long ball and send a cool finish into the far corner for his 10th goal in as many games. The striker had earlier hit the post in an open match in which both teams threatened, with Fulham's Bryan Ruiz also denied by the woodwork.
NEWCASTLE UNITED 3
GOALS:- NEWCASTLE: GUTIERREZ 41st; SISSOKO 68th, 90th. CHELSEA: LAMPARD 55th; MATA 61st.
Moussa Sissoko scored twice on his home debut as Newcastle came from behind to beat Chelsea. Jonas Gutierrez headed the opener, but Chelsea responded through Frank Lampard, who has now scored 10 goals or more in 10 successive seasons, and Juan Mata's curling finish. Sissoko equalised on 68 minutes and struck the winner in stoppage time.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0
NORWICH CITY 0
Norwich City goalkeeper Mark Bunn's second-half penalty save from Adel Taarabt earned his side a point against Premier League bottom club QPR. The Canaries were furious about the award after Bunn felled Jamie Mackie, but the keeper made a fine diving save from the otherwise impressive Taarabt. Taarabt also went close with two long-range strikes.
GOALS:- READING: KEBE 7th, 85th. SUNDERLAND: GARDNER PEN 29th.
Two goals from Jimmy Kebe helped Reading beat Sunderland as the Royals moved two points clear of the Premier League relegation zone. The Mali forward rifled in an early opener as the hosts dominated against a Black Cats side aiming to move into the top half of the table. Sunderland equalised through a Craig Gardner penalty after Pavel Pogrebnyak clumsily fouled John O'Shea. But Kebe towered above Gardner to meet Ian Harte's free kick in a late twist.
WEST HAM UNITED 1
SWANSEA CITY 0
GOAL:- CARROLL 77th.
Andy Carroll scored on his first start since November as West Ham defeated Swansea at Upton Park. The striker, on loan from Liverpool, grabbed the winner late in the second half, leaping highest to head in from close range. Swansea keeper Gerhard Tremmel made superb saves from Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Vaz Te and Carroll.
WIGAN ATHLETIC 2
GOALS:- WIGAN: CALDWELL 25th; MALONEY 90th. SOUTHAMPTON: LAMBERT 64th; SCHNEIDERLIN 85th.
Shaun Maloney's 90th-minute goal rescued a draw for relegation-threatened Wigan against fellow strugglers Southampton. The Latics led at the break courtesy of Gary Caldwell's header from 12 yards, but Rickie Lambert nodded home from close range to level. Adam Lallana crashed a half-volley off the post for Saints before Morgan Schneiderlin's side-foot made it 2-1. But Maloney's late tap in from two yards saw Wigan earn a vital point.