Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes suffered another severe setback as they went down 2-0 to relegation strugglers Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday.
To complete a sorry afternoon for Rafael Benitez and his men, Chelsea grabbed a late winner at home to Wigan to leapfrog them on goal difference into second place in the English standings. Leaders Manchester United, who are playing in the League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, are seven points clear of Chelsea and Liverpool having played a game less. Their manager Alex Ferguson would certainly have been delighted by the turn of events as main rivals Liverpool stumbled again, despite going into the match off the back of a morale-boosting 1-0 win at Real Madrid in the Champions League. By contrast his counterpart Benitez cut a forlorn figure as he put the blame on poor finishing for his side’s defeat. “Clearly you to to take chances if you want to win games,” he told Sky Sports News. “We’ve had problems this season and today was the same.” Benitez was unable to call on the services up front of Fernando Torres, who limped off in the Bernabeu, but Steven Gerrard returned to the Liverpool starting line-up and was prominent as the visitors made a bright start. Home goalkeeper Brad Jones had to save from Nabil El Zhar and Dirk Kuyt and Gerrard drove into the side netting before Boro took a shock 31st minute lead as Stewart Downing’s corner was unwittingly deflected past his own keeper Pepe Reina by Xabi Alonso. Liverpool pressed desperately for an equalizer and El Zhar should have converted after being set up by Gerrard before Turkish international Tuncay Sanli put Boro further ahead just after the hour mark. Gerrard provided another chance for Dirk Kuyt, which was wasted, before he was substituted with a quarter of an hour remaining, raising fears of a further injury problem. It was Middlesbrough’s first win in 15 games to provide a lifeline in a desperate battle against the drop as they moved out of the bottom three.
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Chelsea were hardly convincing but picked up a valuable three points under new manager Guus Hiddink at Stamford Bridge. Petr Cech had to save superbly from Paul Schamer and Ashley Cole and John Terry both cleared off the line as Wigan took command in the early stages. But Terry volleyed home from the edge of the area in the 24th minute to restore order and Chelsea looked set for a comfortable win. With eight minutes left Maynor Figueroa set up Olivier Kapo for a Wigan equalizer, but their hopes of a deserved point were dashed as Chelsea captain Frank Lampard popped up in the penalty area to score the winner. Elsewhere, Arsenal were jeered off the pitch at their Emirates Stadium after being held to a fourth straight goalless home draw in the league. Robin van Persie spurned the best chances for the home side, who also hit the post, but visitors Fulham were well worth their point. The result leaves Arsenal in fifth spot, five points adrift of Aston Villa having played a game more in the battle for Champions League spots. Everton, who won 2-0 at home to West Bromwich Albion, remain in sixth place but have cut the gap on Arsenal to just two points as their excellent run continues.