West Ham United’s Carlton Cole (left), competes with Everton’s Sylvian Distin during their English Premier League soccer match at Upton Park, London, Dec 22.(AP)
Barry keeps City in title hunt Arsenal back on track as Spurs frustrated

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, Dec 22, (AFP): Gareth Barry scored a controversial late winner as Manchester City kept in touch with Manchester United at the top of the Premier League after a 1-0 victory over struggling Reading. Barry rose to head in David Silva’s cross in the third minute of stoppage-time, leaving Reading to protest furiously that the England midfielder had climbed over his marker Nicky Shorey before scoring. Not for the first time this season Roberto Mancini’s men laboured to turn their possession into chances, but the win at least moved them within three points of leaders United, who travel to Swansea on Sunday.
Returning to Eastlands for the first time since seeing a two-year unbeaten home league record come to an end in the Manchester derby, City should have decided the game during the first half.\


Sergio Aguero might have won a penalty after 10 minutes when he breezed to the by-line, being tripped by Adrian Mariappa in the process, but elected to stay on his feet and won only a corner from his far-post cross.
Silva then collected a pass from Carlos Tevez and saw his shot deflected behind. Barry’s cross was laid off superbly by Aguero for Tevez whose near-post strike was well saved by keeper Adam Federici, when the City forward should have arguably been more clinical.
City really should have ended the home fans’ frustration after 34 minutes when neat passing play between Tevez and Silva ended with the former picking out Barry with a cross which the England midfielder headed too close to Federici.
Pablo Zabaleta went close after 41 minutes when his shot hit Jem Karacan and looped over the keeper, landing on the roof of the net.
The second half opened with Zabaleta required to head clear a dangerous cross from Karacan and, after 53 minutes, Ian Harte’s corner was met by Alex Pearce’s powerful leap and a header which just cleared the City bar.


But, once more, the traffic flowed in one direction only. Tevez was found in the area by Zabaleta’s pass, shooting disappointingly into the side-netting soon after, and Tevez’s 18-yard free-kick might have curled in at the far post had Federici not made an emphatic punched clearance.
Mancini brought on Edin Dzeko, the scorer of so many vital goals off the bench for the City this season, in place of defensive midfielder Javi Garcia just before the hour mark, leaving City with four front-line strikers in their ranks.
Dzeko might have made an immediate impact, after 62 minutes, when Zabaleta worked his way to the by-line but the full-back’s cross was frustratingly behind the substitute who had an open net at his mercy.
The Bosnian forward again showed his aerial threat after 65 minutes, meeting Silva’s corner with a trademark, powerful header which again threatened, but ultimately missed, the Reading goal.
City could count themselves lucky, however, after 75 minutes when Reading might have claimed the most implausible opening goal.
Pavel Pogrebnyak pounced on an error by Kolo Toure and surged down the left before crossing into the City area, where Matija Nastasic appeared to handle as he attempted to intercept.
The visitors appealed for a penalty before Jimmy Kebe picked out Pogrebnyak whose deflected shot was easily saved.


Arsenal 1, Wigan 0
In Wigan, United Kingdom, Mikel Arteta’s controversial penalty gave Arsenal a hard-fought 1-0 victory over struggling Wigan at the DW Stadium.
The three points lifted Arsene Wenger’s team into third place in the Premier League table, although Chelsea and Tottenham can both climb back above the Gunners with wins this weekend.
But the narrowness of the margin reflected the considerable contribution of Wigan, who did not look like a team languishing third from bottom, and another erratic performance from Arsenal.
Arsenal’s third successive league win was secured by the second half penalty converted by Spanish midfielder Arteta after Jean Beausejour challenged Theo Walcott from behind.
“It was very important because we beat West Brom at home and now we have two away wins (against Reading and Wigan),” Wenger said.
“It was a difficult game because they stopped us from playing. I believe they are in the wrong position in the table.”


Wigan manager Roberto Martinez added: “The penalty was very soft. Theo Walcott is very clever there.
“We are in the middle of a period where calls are not going our way but we played with a great mentality and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Arsenal had an early scare when Arouna Kone was flagged marginally offside from James McArthur’s pass as Wigan took the game to Arsenal.
Latics goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, making his 100th appearance since being signed from Bolton, had to save from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after a smart move from Arsenal.
Santi Carzola, their hat-trick hero in Monday’s 5-2 win at Reading, produced a fabulous pass to send Arteta surging through the middle to threaten Al Habsi’s goal.
At the other end Kone, heading for the Africa Cup of Nations next month with Ivory Coast, slipped past two tackles but elected to shoot from long range and gave Wojciech Szczesny a routine save.
But Arsenal were finding plenty of space in the Wigan half. Lukas Podolski saw his fierce shot beaten out by Al Habsi and Boyce was obliged to clear Cazorla’s low raking cross soon after.


Spurs 0, Stoke 0
In London, Tottenham slipped down to fifth place in the Premier League after being held to a frustrating 0-0 draw by Stoke at White Hart Lane.
Andre Villas-Boas’s side could have gone third with a victory but instead they dropped out of the Champions League places after a dour encounter.
Villas-Boas and his assistant Steffen Freund regularly complained about the physicality of Stoke, who had four players booked, but the visitors, well marshalled by defenders Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth, were worth a draw.
Even Gareth Bale, returning to the Tottenham side after his hamstring injury, couldn’t break down the Stoke back-four and Tony Pulis’s team, who have kept nine clean sheets this season, have now gone eight matches unbeaten.
Just 45 seconds had gone before Kyle Walker’s wayward pass let in Kenwyne Jones, but the Stoke striker lost his balance and could only shoot over.
Stoke threatened again when Steven N’Zonzi fed Jones on the counter-attack and the forward’s shot beat Hugo Lloris, only for Sandro to clear off the line.
Tottenham sparked into life when Bale put in one of his trademark lung-busting runs and beat his marker, but Shawcross cleared before Jermain Defoe could tap in.


Everton 2, West Ham 1
In London, South Africa midfielder Steven Pienaar lifted Everton into fourth place in the Premier League as his team came from behind to win 2-1 at West Ham.
David Moyes’ side climbed above Chelsea and Tottenham into the final Champions League berth thanks to Pienaar’s second half winner after Victor Anichebe had cancelled out Carlton Cole’s early opener for the Hammers.
Everton enjoyed a slice of good fortune as West Ham had Cole controversially sent off soon after Anichebe’s equaliser.
Referee Anthony Taylor also dismissed Everton midfielder Darron Gibson in stoppage-time, but it was too late to stop the visitors taking the points.
Everton, without suspended star midfielder Marouane Fellaini, went close early on when Leighton Baines’ free-kick was headed over by Sylvain Distin.
Baines produced another fine set-piece three minutes later, his corner headed home by Leon Osman but ruled out seemingly for Anichebe’s block on Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Everton’s players were furious and their anger only increased when Cole fired West Ham in front two minutes later, the striker cutting inside the recalled Johnny Heitinga far too easily before cracking in a low drive from the edge of the box.


West Brom 2, Norwich 1

In West Bromwich, United Kingdom, West Bromwich Albion brought Norwich City’s 10-match unbeaten run in the English Premier League to a crashing halt with a 2-1 win at the Hawthorns.
Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku headed the winner with eight minutes to go to leave West Brom sixth in the table, five points ahead of Norwich.
Robert Snodgrass gave Norwich the lead with a 23rd-minute free kick but Zoltan Gera ended the hosts’ near six-hour goal drought two minutes before the break. Lukaku, on loan from European champions Chelsea, then capitalised on West Brom’s momentum by nodding in the decisive goal.
For Albion, former England goalkeeper Ben Foster returned after seven matches out with a groin injury, replacing Boaz Myhill.
West Brom manager Steve Clarke rested top scorer Shane Long, bringing Lukaku in, while midfielder Graham Dorrans came in for the suspended Youssouf Mulumbu.


Sunderland 1, Southampton 0

In Southampton, United Kingdom, Southampton’s recent revival after a dismal start to the season came to an abrupt halt at home to fellow-strugglers Sunderland as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat. Despite dominating for long periods, Saints could not break down a stubborn Sunderland defence and the large band of travelling supporters left St Mary’s happy as the Black Cats moved up to 15th.
Southampton, meanwhile, are fourth-from-bottom and only escape the relegation places on goal difference from Wigan. Sunderland took the lead three minutes before the break against the run of play and with a goal which had more than a suspicion of good fortune about it.


Newscastle 1, QPR 0

In Newcastle, United Kingdom, a super strike by substitute Shola Ameobi gave Newcastle a much needed victory on Saturday with a 1-0 win over fellow Premier League strugglers QPR.
Ameobi, sent on by manager Alan Pardew during the second-half to replace Papiss Cisse who left the pitch refusing to shake the manager’s hand, scored nine minutes from time to give the Magpies only their second win in their last eight league games. It was also QPR’s first defeat in five games since Harry Redknapp became manager and leaves them five points short of safety.
Both sides initially opted for the aerial route because parts of the pitch were flooded, with Senegalese striker Cisse getting in the first chance heading just wide from Jonas Guttierez’s cross.
Cisse was at the centre of the only other piece of noteworthy action of the first-half when he tumbled to the ground under a challenge by Fabio but his appeals for a penalty went unheeded.


Liverpool 4, Fulham 0

In Liverpool, United Kingdom, Liverpool winger Stewart Downing finally ended his Premier League goal drought as the Reds swept to a 4-0 victory over Fulham at Anfield.
Downing had gone 44 league matches without a goal since joining from Aston Villa in a £20 million deal in 2011 that has been widely ridiculed as a major mistake by then Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish.
Brendan Rodgers, who replaced Dalglish at Anfield in the close-season, had fared no better with the under-achieving England international and Downing last week revealed he has been told he can leave the club.
But the 28-year-old started against Fulham and seized the chance to put himself in the shop window.
After Martin Skrtel lashed in Liverpool’s opener early in the first half, Downing set up England captain Steven Gerrard for the second goal with a fine pass and then bagged the third himself after the break.
It was just his fifth goal for Liverpool, the others coming in the FA Cup and Europa League, and his first in the top-flight since he scored for Villa against his current club in May 2011.
Liverpool’s biggest victory of the season was the ideal response to last weekend’s dismal 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa and lifted the Reds to eighth place, five points behind fourth-placed Everton.
It helped that Fulham, notoriously bad travellers, came bearing gifts in the form of a wide-open defence that Liverpool exploited time and again.


The hosts needed only eight minutes to take the lead when a Gerrard corner picked out Skrtel, and with former Reds full-back John Arne Riise slow to close down the Slovakia defender he brought the ball down and smashed a volley past Mark Schwarzer.
Daniel Agger was unable to emulate his central defensive partner as the Dane fired over from Suarez’s cross.
But Downing’s first significant intervention helped Liverpool take total control in the 36th minute.
Downing’s superb reverse pass from the edge of the penalty area deceived everyone except Gerrard and the Liverpool captain ran clear to clip a shot across Schwarzer and just inside the far post.
Any doubts about the result were erased in the 51st minute when Gerrard picked out Downing on the right flank and the winger cut inside before blasting home a shot which appeared to release months of pent-up frustration.
The 28-year-old played like a man with a point to prove at times and saw another blistering drive sail just over the angle of crossbar and post.
Rodgers’ side sealed only their fourth home league win of the season when Uruguay forward Luis Suarez side-footed home in stoppage-time for his 11th league goal of the season.



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