United back on top as Chelsea crash at Villa

Michael Owen's deflected header put Manchester United on the road to a hard-fought victory.
Champions Manchester United returned to the top of the English Premier League on Saturday after previous leaders Chelsea crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa.

United held off a late onslaught from Bolton to secure a 2-1 home victory to move a point above Chelsea, who suffered only their second reverse this season — both coming away from home. Tottenham retained third place despite having England striker Jermain Defoe sent off in the 2-1 victory away to bottom side Portsmouth, while London rivals Arsenal moved into fourth with a 3-1 win over Birmingham and last season’s runners-up Liverpool continued their indifferent campaign with a controversial 1-0 defeat at Sunderland. Martin O’Neill’s Villa side produced the result of the day, coming from behind to win as the Londoners struggled to cope at set-pieces. Didier Drogba put Chelsea ahead in the 15th minute with his seventh goal of the season when veteran American goalkeeper Brad Friedel completely misjudged the Ivory Coast striker’s long-range effort, which bounced over his dive and into the net. But summer signing Richard Dunne equalized with his second goal in successive games in the 32nd minute when he headed home at the far past after Chelsea midfielder Frank Young could only flick on Ashley Young’s corner.

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Friedel made amends for his error as he tipped over a chip from Deco and then denied Drogba at point-blank range, then seven minutes into the second half Dunne’s fellow center-back James Collins put Villa ahead from another Young corner as he was left unmarked at the far post. It was the first goal in three and a half years for Wales international Collins, who joined from West Ham in August. O’Neill later claimed Villa should have had a penalty early in the first half after England striker Gabriel Agbonlahor went down in the box when challenged by Jose Bosingwa. “It was a major decision. I think when the referee sees it again he will admit that he got it wrong,” the Irishman said. It was a penalty and the consequence was that their player ought to have been sent off.” Manchester United looked set for a comfortable victory at Old Trafford after taking a 2-0 halftime lead against Bolton despite missing injured England striker Wayne Rooney. His replacement Michael Owen’s off-target header rebounded into the net off the body of hapless center-back Zat Knight in just the fifth minute, and summer signing Antonio Valencia scored his first goal for the club just after half an hour. However, Bolton goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen made several fine saves to prevent a rout, and Ivan Klasnic had the ball in United’s net only for it to be ruled out before Matt Taylor reduced the deficit with 15 minutes left with a far-post header from a cross by Kevin Davies. Knight missed a chance to level the scores and fellow defender Gary Cahill’s header from point-blank range was superbly kept out by veteran keeper Edwin Van Der Sar, making his first start this season after breaking his fingers in the summer. Tottenham were also cruising at 2-0 against Portsmouth as Ledley King celebrated his return from injury by heading home a Niko Kranjcar corner in the 29th minute and Defoe netted on the stroke of half-time against his former club, having earlier hit the post. Former Tottenham midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng pulled one back with a fierce shot from Steve Finnan’s cross in the 59th minute, then Defoe saw red for a stamp on Aaron Mokoena two minutes later. Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes denied Hassan Yebda with a superb late save before home midfielder Michael Brown was sent off for two bookings in time added on against his former club, as manager Harry Redknapp enjoyed a triumphant return to Fratton Park. Arsenal also earned a two-goal buffer against promoted Birmingham inside the first 20 minutes, as Robin van Persie and Abou Diaby scored in the space of three minutes. The visitors, with new owner Carson Yeung watching from the stands, hit back through veteran midfielder Lee Bowyer in the 38th minute after a mistake by young keeper Vito Mannone. However, Russia forward Andrei Arshavin settled the match on the counter-attack with five minutes to play as Arsenal clinched a seventh successive win in all competitions. Sunderland climbed to seventh place above Liverpool as the visitors, missing the injured Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, suffered a fourth defeat in nine league starts. Prolific striker Darren Bent netted the only goal in the five minute — his eighth this season — as his shot hit a balloon left lying on the pitch and deceived goalkeeper Pepe Reina. The summer signing also hit the post in the second half before a furious row erupted between opposing managers Steve Bruce and Rafael Benitez, who clashed after Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones had extensive treatment on the pitch before being stretchered off, like teammate Lee Cattermole was earlier. The result followed Sunderland’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United before the international break, leaving Bruce’s side level on 16 points with Villa and sixth-placed Manchester City, who travel to Wigan on Sunday. Stoke moved up to ninth with a 2-1 win at home to struggling West Ham, ending a run of four matches without a win. Striker James Beattie scored both goals, with a penalty in the 11th minute and the winner on 69 after England defender Matthew Upson headed an equalizer before the interval. Everton denied Wolverhampton Wanderers a second away victory since being promoted as Russian winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov scored his first goal for the club in the 88th minute to cancel out Kevin Doyle’s 75th-minute strike. The visitors had substitute striker Stefan Maierhofer sent off in injury-time for his second yellow card.