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United on course, Blues held

MANCHESTER United tightened the screw in the Premier League title race with a 2-0 win over Portsmouth as Chelsea was held to a 0-0 home draw by Everton on Wednesday.

Wayne Rooney's early strike and a late goal from Michael Carrick sent below-par United back to the top spot ahead of Liverpool, three points clear with a game in hand.

United has 74 points with six matches left and Liverpool, which drew 4-4 at home to Arsenal on Tuesday, has 71 with five games remaining. Chelsea is on 68 having played a game more than Alex Ferguson's side.

After sitting out United's penalty shootout defeat by Everton in the FA Cup semifinal on Sunday, Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo returned for United as it set about seizing control of the league and it was given the perfect start.

Anderson released Ryan Giggs down the left after nine minutes and the veteran winger, as he has done throughout his career, picked the perfect pass to allow Rooney the simplest of finishes.

John O'Shea and Giggs both missed chances to stretch the lead before halftime against an unadventurous Portsmouth side which created little threat.

There were still a few jitters around Old Trafford, however, until Carrick made the points safe, supplying a polished finish to a ball from midfielder Paul Scholes who was making his 600th appearance for the club.

United's pleasure was enhanced by news of Chelsea's stalemate with Everton at Stamford Bridge, a result that left Guus Hiddink's side as rank outsiders for the title.

However, injuries to right backs Gary Neville and John O'Shea will be a concern for Ferguson.

At Stamford Bridge, sixth-placed Everton was the better side in the first half with Brazilian striker Jo twice unable to cash in after being put through on goal.

The closest Chelsea came to a winner in a rehearsal for next month's FA Cup final was a Didier Drogba shot against the crossbar three minutes into stoppage time.

"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)."


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