Premier League Review

City fight back but drop points

March 31, 2012
By ESPN staff

The Premier League title is now out of the hands of Manchester City after their comeback fell short against Sunderland on Saturday - throwing control of the championship firmly into Manchester United's possession. Arsenal, meanwhile, were also stunted in their pursuit of Champions League football by QPR, which allowed Chelsea to close the gap on their rivals with a thrilling victory at Aston Villa.

Mario Balotelli
GettyImagesMario Balotelli celebrates pulling a goal back for Manchester City to make it 3-2.

• Palmer: Emotional day for Villa

At the bottom, Wolves remain winless at the bottom under manager Terry Connor, while Wigan's recovery continues thanks to another success against Stoke.

Manchester City failed to move back to the top of the Premier League table and must now rely on results elsewhere if they are to win the title this season, after Sunderland ruined their impeccable home record with an incredible 3-3 draw at Eastlands. City could have applied pressure to rivals United ahead of Monday's trip to Blackburn had they maintained their 100 per cent home record, but goals from Sebastian Larsson(2) and Nicklas Bendtner put Sunderland 3-1 up, before Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov rescued a point for the hosts.

Sunderland made much the better start at the Etihad Stadium and City were initially grateful for a crucial last-ditch tackle from Micah Richards, denying Stephane Sessegnon a clear goalscoring opportunity, before moments later Craig Gardner fired wastefully wide.

City then should have led when Balotelli missed a free header from four yards, but instead it was Sunderland who struck first through a classy strike from Larsson. Faced with a defender on the edge of the area, Larsson simply opened his body and curled a silky finish beyond the unsighted Joe Hart for 1-0.

City's leveller came via a controversial penalty as Edin Dzeko appeared to fall extremely easily inside the area, allowing Balotelli to send Simon Mignolet the wrong way from 12 yards. But by half-time they were behind again as Bendtner steered a superb header into the far corner from Sessegnon's cross.

An expected siege from City failed to materialise in the second half and it was Sunderland who scored again, Bendtner running into acres of space in a disjointed City rearguard, squaring perfectly for Larsson to tap home his second of the afternoon.

A despondent Roberto Mancini threw on Carlos Tevez for David Silva, and City found a lifeline when Balotelli sent a curler past Mignolet. Seconds later Kolarov smashed a fierce drive through a crowd of bodies for 3-3, but City could not find a dramatic winner in a frantic finish.

Arsenal are now only five points clear of fifth place in the race for Champions League qualification after they were beaten 2-1 by relegation-threatened QPR at Loftus Road. Having played an extra game, the Gunners also stay just three points clear of fierce rivals Tottenham thanks to goals from Adel Taarabt and Samba Diakite.

Rangers started extremely brightly against their London neighbours on home soil, and few could argue when they took the lead in the 22nd minute. Former Tottenham man Taarabt, who has failed to shine this season, produced the magic with a flick past Thomas Vermaelen, which allowed him to drive towards goal before firing right-footed past Wojciech Szczesny.

Arsenal continued to struggle for momentum in the game but they found a leveller close to half-time when Theo Walcott stroked home after his initial effort had rebounded off a post.

However, Diakite restored QPR's advantage midway through the second half, capitalising on more poor defending from Vermaelen for the winning goal. Victory for QPR keeps them 18th in the table, adrift of safety on goal difference.

There were emotional scenes at Villa Park as Aston Villa fans paid tribute to captain Stiliyan Petrov, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia on Friday, but on the pitch the Bulgarian's team-mates came off second best in a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea.

Fernando Torres, searching for his first league goal since September, had an early chance for the Blues only to be denied by Shay Given, but Chelsea did not have to wait long for their opener as Daniel Sturridge tapped home. Roberto Di Matteo's men were far from at their best, but they doubled their lead early in the second period through Branislav Ivanovic

Villa appeared to have staged an incredible comeback when James Collins and Eric Lichaj levelled at 2-2, but Ivanovic netted for a second time before Torres ended his drought to lift Chelsea within two points of Spurs.

Wigan Athletic's recovery continues after they managed a 2-0 victory against Stoke City at the DW Stadium, although they stay 19th. Building on last week's win at Liverpool, the Latics made it consecutive triumphs thanks to Antolin Alcaraz and Victor Moses.

Jean Beausejour was guilty of a glaring miss from six yards in a goalless first half, but he made amends with the cross that led to Alcaraz's opener, the defender burying his header past Asmir Begovic. Moses then made the points safe at the death

Wolverhampton Wanderers' desperate run under Terry Connor shows no signs of slowing after they were beaten 3-2 in what might be deemed a 'relegation six-pointer' at home to Bolton Wanderers. Wolves failed to win for a sixth straight game under Connor, leaving them six points from safety.

Martin Petrov
GettyImagesMartin Petrov celebrates Bolton's equaliser at Wolves

Michael Kightly actually handed Wolves the lead with a beautiful 25-yard curler eight minutes into the second half, but Martin Petrov quickly levelled from the spot for Bolton. Marcus Alonso and Kevin Davies then won it for the visitors who leap up to 16th, with Matt Jarvis' late effort too little for Wolves.

Elsewhere, Everton are above Liverpool after they won 2-0 against West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park. David Moyes' men, who face their Merseyside rivals in the FA Cup semi-finals, leapfrogged them in the league thanks to an own goal from Gareth McAuley in addition to a strike from Victor Anichebe.

There was a huge element of luck about Everton's opener on 20 minutes, with Leon Osman's strike taking a wicked deflection off McAuley past Ben Foster. However, there was nothing fortunate about Anichebe's powerful strike, which went in off an upright.

And Fulham took a step towards a top-ten finish with a 2-1 victory over Norwich City, with goals coming from Clint Dempsey, Damien Duff, rendering Aaron Wilbraham's strike mere consolation.