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Man United beats Sunderland, maintains surge to title

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Associated Press
3/30/2013 5:02:36 PM
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Manchester United's record-breaking surge to a 20th English title gathered more pace with a 1-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday, while Gareth Bale helped Tottenham seize the initiative in the race for Champions League qualification by scoring another spectacular goal.

Titus Bramble's own goal earned United an English-record 25th win from 30 league games and kept the team 15 points clear of reigning champion Manchester City, which thrashed Newcastle 4-0 to tighten its grip on second place.

The defeat to United also proved costly for Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill, whose departure was announced hours later.

"The players have been galvanized," United manager Alex Ferguson said of the team's reaction to losing the title to City on the final day of last season. "Their spirit, concentration and focus have been excellent . we just have to win games and that is the important thing to focus on."

Spurs leapfrogged Chelsea into third place thanks to a 2-1 victory at Swansea -- with Bale's sublime curling shot proving decisive -- and the European champions' 2-1 loss at Southampton.

Fifth-place Arsenal moved just two points behind Chelsea in the battle for a top-four place by beating Reading 4-1, ruining Nigel Adkins' first game in charge of a team that's now bottom of the standings.

It was Bale's 27th goal for club and country this season -- a tally which has made him a contender for the player of the year award and is keeping Spurs on course for a return to the Champions League.

"He's an amazing player," Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas said of Bale. "When he finds a small amount of space, he can produce something special."

Everton beat Stoke 1-0 courtesy of a wonderful solo goal by Kevin Mirallas to stay sixth, two points behind Arsenal, while West Ham and Wigan also won to ease their relegation fears.

City produced one of its best performances of the season to sweep aside Newcastle, with Carlos Tevez, David Silva, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure all scoring, but manager Roberto Mancini has given up hope of catching United.

"It's important to get second place and to win the FA Cup semifinal next week," said Mancini, indicating his priorities for the rest of the season.

United barely had to break sweat to see off disappointing Sunderland, which is just a point clear of relegation trouble and looking for a new manager after the announcement of O'Neill's departure that ended the Northern Irishman's 15-month tenure at the northeast club.

However, United needed Bramble to deflect in Robin van Persie's shot to clinch victory at the Stadium of Light -- the venue where Ferguson's team had the title ripped from its grasp on the final day of last season.

The leaders remained on course to break Chelsea's record from 2004-05 of 95 points from a single campaign and requires just 10 points from its last eight games to extend its record haul of championships.

"We're getting closer and it's one game less," United midfielder Michael Carrick said. "We have to keep going."

The battle for third and fourth is proving more eventful, with Chelsea the big loser on Saturday.

Interim manager Rafa Benitez again rotated his lineup in view of Monday's FA Cup quarterfinal reply against Man United and Southampton took full advantage, with strikers Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert -- with a brilliant free kick for his 14th goal of the campaign -- scoring for the hosts.

Chelsea went the way of Man City and Liverpool, who also lost at St. Mary's this season, after beginning a run of six matches in 16 days across three competitions.

"We have to carry on and be ready for the next challenge," Benitez said. "We don't have too many options in some positions so we have to manage the squad. We are really disappointed."

Tottenham bounced back from successive losses to Liverpool and Fulham to climb two points above Chelsea, which has a game in hand, and had Bale to thank again.

The Wales winger, playing in his native country, set up Jan Vertonghen for Spurs' opening goal and then flicked a shot into the net from outside the area past motionless goalkeeper Michel Vorm in the 21st minute.

"They had the better start, especially Gareth Bale -- he made the difference," Swansea manager Michael Laudrup said.

Gervinho, Arsenal's much-maligned Ivorian forward, inspired his team to a third straight victory, dropping Reading provisionally below Queens Park Rangers.

Arouna Kone scored Wigan's winner in a 1-0 victory over Norwich, lifting his team provisionally out of the bottom three above Aston Villa, which plays Liverpool on Sunday.

Andy Carroll scored twice for West Ham in a 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, which had Youssouf Mulumbu sent off late on for kicking the ball at an opponent after giving away a free kick.



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