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Man United beats Pompey to move closer to title

MANCHESTER United moved closer to a third straight English Premier League title by beating Portsmouth 2-0 to go three points ahead of Liverpool at the top with a game in hand yesterday.

The threat from Chelsea lessened as Guus Hiddink's side was held to 0-0 by Everton in the other league fixture to slip six points adrift having played a game more than United.

Wayne Rooney scored after nine minutes and Michael Carrick fired low past Portsmouth goalkeeper David James in the 82nd to ensure United would take advantage of Liverpool's 4-4 draw with Arsenal on Tuesday.

"It's a boost for us," Carrick said. "Watching the game last night and seeing that result we were desperate to put on a good performance and win tonight.

"We've got three points and we are in a decent position so hopefully we can get the momentum up until the end of the season and put the title to bed as quickly as we can."

With six games remaining, United tops the standings with 74 points, followed by Liverpool (71) and Chelsea (68).

"We must be realistic, maybe mathematically there is still a chance but you can't waste points," Hiddink said. "We have to focus now on only two roads, the Champions League and Everton again (in the FA Cup final)."

Alex Ferguson made nine changes from the inexperienced United side that lost Sunday's FA Cup semifinal to Everton on penalties.

The returning Rooney was operating as the lone striker and tapped into the net after Ryan Giggs, in his 799th appearance for United, latched onto Anderson's lofted ball and went past Glen Johnson before squaring to the unmarked England international.

The Red Devils were firmly in control but were frustrated by James in the Pompey goal.

United took until the 82nd minute to score again, with substitute Carrick firing into the far corner after running onto Paul Scholes' precise throughball from the halfway line. The 34-year-old Scholes was making his 600th appearance for United, where he has spent his entire career.

United's victory came at a cost, losing right backs Gary Neville and John O'Shea to foot injuries in each half. Both look set to miss league matches and at least the first leg of the Champions League semifinal with Arsenal next Wednesday.

"They are going to be out for weeks and that's a disappointment because they were both (injured in) bad tackles and the referee has done nothing about that," Ferguson said. "That's disappointing because you normally expect a firm display from Peter Walton, but not tonight."

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea lacked inspiration and took until injury time to produce its best chance when Didier Drogba hit the crossbar.

"We were working hard but we didn't work with the needed intelligence to counter this wall of defense from Everton," Hiddink said. "We did not have the creativity tonight."

Everton failed to capitalize on a string of first-half chances, notably from forward Jo, loaned from Manchester City in January.

The Brazilian saw a third-minute shot fly straight at Petr Cech and then the goalkeeper used his feet to stop the ball as Jo ran clear on goal.

"He has improved game on game but we don't have the cash to buy Jo," Everton manager David Moyes said.

Chelsea only began to drive forward with more purpose after a double substitution midway through the second half.

Nicolas Anelka and Michael Essien were replaced by Salomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel. Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard was called into action immediately when Chelsea captain John Terry picked up the ball at halfway, raced forward and struck the ball from 30 yards (meters) forcing the American into a diving save.


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