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Football
City stumble in title challenge
English title challengers drop two vital points despite a late fightback against Sunderland as QPR halt Arsenal's run.
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2012 17:42
Nicklas Bendtner scores as Sunderland dent the title aspirations of Mancini's men [GETTY]

Manchester City's challenge for the English Premier League title suffered a setback as they were forced to stage a late fightback just to salvage a 3-3 draw against Sunderland at Eastlands on Saturday.

With leaders Manchester United not in action until Monday's trip to Blackburn, Roberto Mancini's side would have returned to the top of the table on goal difference if they had beaten the Black Cats.

But City, who had won their previous 20 home league games to set a Premier League record, are now two points behind United and that gap will extend to five if the champions win at Ewood Park.

Disappointed Mancini

"It was a crazy game, a very emotional game," Mancini said.

"We defended very badly. I'm not happy with our performance, but we have a chance again.

"Are we still in the title race? I think so because eight games is enough (for United) to do two draws."

City, on a run of only one win in four league matches, fell behind to Sweden midfielder Sebastian Larsson's cool finish in the 31st minute.

Mancini's men equalised two minutes before half-time when referee Phil Dowd harshly awarded a penalty for Craig Gardner's challenge on Edin Dzeko.

Mario Balotelli stroked home the spot-kick, yet City were behind again moments later as on-loan Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner headed in Stephane Sessegnon's cross.

Larsson added the third goal as he fired Sessegnon's pass beyond Joe Hart in the 55th minute.

But, to their credit, City kept going and Balotelli struck again in the 85th minute before Aleksandar Kolarov hit the equaliser moments later.

Chelsea kept their top-four bid alive with a 4-2 win over Aston Villa as the home faithful paid tribute to stricken captain Stiliyan Petrov.

Petrov's presence at Villa Park just 24 hours after being diagnosed with acute leukaemia produced an emotional atmosphere.

With reports circulating that the Villa midfielder will retire to focus on his battle, a tearful Petrov was given a rapturous reception from the home fans.

Something to be happy about: Torres finds the net for his first league goal since September [GETTY]

Chelsea made the perfect start when Daniel Sturridge slotted home in the ninth minute and Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic doubled their lead in the 51st minute.

Villa looked to have snatched a point when James Collins struck in the 77th minute header and Eric Lichaj equalised three minutes later.

But Ivanovic restored Chelsea's lead in the 83rd minute and Fernando Torres moved the Blues within two points of fourth-placed Tottenham, who host Swansea on Sunday, with his first league goal since September.

Gunners shock

Struggling QPR ended Arsenal's run of seven successive league wins with a shock 2-1 victory at Loftus Road.

The third-placed Gunners fell behind in the 22nd minute as Adel Taarabt skipped past Thomas Vermaelen to fire in his first Premier League goal.

Theo Walcott equalised in the 37th minute, but Mark Hughes's side regained the lead as Mali midfielder Samba Diakite notched his first QPR goal in the 66th minute.

QPR remain third bottom but they are now level on points with Blackburn.

"It is a disappointing performance. They defended well and I felt we played football without hurting them," Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said.

Bolton sealed a crucial 3-2 win over relegation rivals Wolves at Molineux.

Terry Connor's Wolves, who have lost eight of their last 10 matches, broke the deadlock through Michael Kightly's stunning 53rd-minute strike.

But Bolton midfielder Martin Petrov equalised with a 63rd-minute penalty after Roger Johnson fouled Mark Davies.

Marcos Alonso put Bolton ahead in the 80th minute and Kevin Davies struck four minutes later to seal a win that keeps Bolton one point clear of the relegation.

Bottom of the table Wolves got one back through Matt Jarvis but are now six points adrift of safety.

Great escape

Results & fixtures

Saturday 31 March

Aston Villa 2-4 Chelsea
Everton 2-0 West Brom
Fulham 2-1 Norwich
Man City 3-3 Sunderland
QPR 2-1 Arsenal
Wigan 2-0 Stoke
Wolves 2-3 Bolton

Sunday 1 April

Newcastle v Liverpool
Tottenham v Swansea

Monday 2 April

Blackburn v Man United

Wigan's bid for another great escape continued with a 2-0 win against Stoke at the DW Stadium.

The Latics, who beat Liverpool in their last outing, have made a habit of avoiding relegation in the closing weeks of the season and they took the points through second half goals from Antolin Alcaraz and Victor Moses.

Roberto Martinez's side stay 19th but only goal difference is keeping them in the bottom three.

Everton climbed above rivals Liverpool into seventh place with a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park.

The hosts were in front when Leon Osman's shot took a wicked deflection off Gareth McAuley for an 18th-minute own goal and Victor Anichebe's 68th minute goal sealed the points.

Fulham beat Norwich 2-1 at Craven Cottage.

American midfielder Clint Dempsey put Fulham ahead in the second minute and Irish winger Damien Duff doubled their lead 11 minutes later.

Aaron Wilbraham's 77th minute goal was little consolation for Norwich.

Source:
AFP
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