United wins again; big victories for City, Arsenal


Associated Press

Posted on March 31, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 31 at 11:02 AM

LONDON (AP) — Manchester United's record-breaking surge to a 20th English title gathered more steam with a 1-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday, and 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 in 30 league games and kept the team 15 points ahead of reigning champion Manchester City, which thrashed Newcastle 4-0 to tighten its grip on second place.

"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."

With American goalkeeper Tim Howard back after recovering from broken bones in his back, Everton beat Stoke 1-0 courtesy of a wonderful solo goal by Kevin Mirallas. Howard even helped spark the counterattack that led to the goal, punching a cross clear that landed at the feet of Mirallas. The Toffees stayed 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 now just a point clear of relegation trouble, but 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.

United 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.


BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spanish leader Barcelona conceded a late equalizer to slip to a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo, stumbling on Saturday before its Champions League quarterfinal with Paris Saint-Germain.

Barcelona appeared to have secured the win when Lionel Messi added to his earlier assist to Cristian Tello by scoring in the 73rd minute to extend his record Spanish league scoring run to 19 straight games. With the goal against Celta, Messi has netted against every other team in the league during the streak.

But Barcelona's defense left midfielder Borja Oubina unmarked to head home the tying goal two minutes from time, reawakening doubts about its injury-riddled backline before Tuesday's trip to PSG for their first leg in Europe's final eight.

The draw shouldn't endanger Barcelona's campaign to reclaim the league crown. The Catalan club leads Real Madrid by 14 points before the defending champions visit Real Zaragoza later with their sights likely set on Wednesday's game against Galatasaray in the Champions League.

Elsewhere, midfielder Pedro Morales scored one goal and set up two more in his first start for Malaga to give it a 3-1 win at Rayo Vallecano before the Costa del Sol side hosts Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, also on Wednesday.


MILAN (AP) — Juventus beat bitter rival Inter Milan 2-1 in an entertaining match at San Siro on Saturday.

It took Juventus less than three minutes to take the lead with a stunning strike from Fabio Quagliarella.

Rodrigo Palacio tied it in the 55th but Juventus was back in front five minutes later when Alessandro Matri fired in from close range.

Inter's Esteban Cambiasso was sent off for the first time in his club career following a brutal tackle on Sebastian Giovinco as the final whistle sounded. He later went into the Juventus dressing room to apologize to the young striker.

Napoli could cut Juve's Serie A lead back to nine when it faced Torino late Saturday.

"We achieved a great result, as in my view Inter is capable of beating anyone," Juventus coach Antonio Conte said. "We put another brick down on the foundations of the Scudetto and it's a step forward, but we have to be careful of Napoli and AC Milan who are behind us and can't wait to make the most of any slip-up. So we have to keep a foot on the accelerator."

Milan moved provisionally into second after beating 10-man Chievo Verona 1-0, taking a huge step towards securing a Champions League berth after Fiorentina and Roma lost.

Lazio came from behind to beat Catania 2-1.

At the other end of the table Genoa drew 2-2 with Siena in a relegation battle.


FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Bayern Munich's latest Bundesliga championship was delayed for another week but it did celebrate hammering Hamburger SV 9-2 on Saturday, with Claudio Pizarro scoring four goals.

Because Borussia Dortmund also won, 2-1 in Stuttgart, Bayern remained 20 points ahead with seven games to play and mathematically still can lose the title. But if Bayern wins next week in Frankfurt, it will still become the earliest champion in Bundesliga history.

With a Champions League quarterfinal against Juventus looming on Tuesday, Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes rested several players. But his team quickly seized control against a hapless Hamburg on a damp and cool evening.

Xherdan Shaquiri scored unchallenged in the fifth minute and Bayern got rolling. Shaqiri provided the cross for Bastian Schweinsteiger's goal in the 19th and Pizarro pounced on a corner from Arjen Robben in the 30th.

Pizarro then set up Robben in the 33rd, before Pizarro scored again in the 45th.

Robben and Pizarro picked up where they left after the break.

In the 53rd, Robben set up Pizarro, who slotted home with his heel. One minute later, Pizarro returned the favor, robbing Jeffrey Bruma and setting up Robben for an easy goal.

Pizarro notched his fourth in the 68th. Normally Bayern's third-choice striker after Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez, Pizarro had not scored this season until Saturday.

Bruma headed in a corner in the 75th but substitute Franck Ribery replied for Bayern one minute later.

Hamburg's second also came after a corner from Rafael van der Vaart, with Heiko Westermann heading into the net.

Borussia Dortmund delayed the surrender of its title by winning against 10-man Stuttgart.

Robert Lewandowski scored in his ninth consecutive game to seal Dortmund's victory after the home side lost Gregor Niedermeier to a red card in an ill-tempered match. Lewandowski's streak is third on the league's all-time list. Gerd Mueller scored in 16 straight games and Klaus Allofs in 10. Mueller also had a nine-game scoring streak.

Dortmund's victory strengthened its hold on second place. Bayer Leverkusen stayed third, four points behind, by beating Fortuna Duesseldorf 4-1 away.

Hannover won 2-0 in Augsburg, Schalke beat Hoffenheim 3-0, Freiburg defeated Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-0 and Werder Bremen drew 1-1 in Mainz after conceding the fastest goal of the season 12 seconds into the match.


PARIS (AP) — Saint-Etienne missed the chance to provisionally move above Marseille into third place when it drew 2-2 at relegation battler Troyes in the French league on Saturday.

Fourth-place Saint-Etienne twice took the lead through strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Brandao, but 19th-place Troyes earned a point thanks to goals from midfielders Julien Faussurier and Benjamin Nivet.

On Friday, substitute Kevin Gameiro's late winner was enough to give Paris Saint-Germain a 1-0 home win against defending champion Montpellier and send it provisionally eight points of second-place Lyon. Lyon hosts 18th-place Sochaux on Sunday.

Later Saturday, it was: Ajaccio vs. Toulouse; Bordeaux vs. Lorient; Evian vs. Reims; Rennes vs. Nancy, and Valenciennes vs. Bastia.


GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — Rangers won promotion from the bottom tier of Scottish football on Saturday, beginning what is likely to be a quick climb up the country's league pyramid.

The club drew 0-0 at Montrose and then saw Queen's Park lose at home to Elgin, meaning Ally McCoist's team took an unassailable 22-point lead with six matches left.

The 54-time Scottish champions were demoted to the country's fourth division last year because of financial problems.

Rangers could yet find itself stuck in the bottom tier as Scotland's league may be reconstructed, with officials discussing proposals to merge the third and fourth divisions.

A club statement says "phase one of the journey (up the league) has now been completed although Rangers still don't know where the second stage will begin."