Status quo as Manchester giants end year on summit
United keep seven-point lead as 10-man City survive scare against Norwich while third-placed Tottenham's win is marred by diving row
Manchester United preserved their seven-point lead over Manchester City in the Premier League yesterday, defeating West Bromwich Albion 2-0 as the champions scraped a 4-3 win at Norwich City.
United manager Alex Ferguson was the centre of pre-match attention at Old Trafford for an outspoken attack on Newcastle United counterpart Alan Pardew, but his side got down to business quickly and went ahead in the ninth minute.
The scorer wore a blue and white shirt, however, with West Brom defender Gareth McAuley inadvertently shinning the ball into his own goal after Ashley Young drove a low cross across the face of goal.
Former United goalkeeper Ben Foster tipped a Young shot onto the crossbar, but United were not able to breathe easily until substitute Robin van Persie curled a glorious shot into the top-left corner in the last minute.
City lost Samir Nasri to a first-half red card at Norwich but edged an open-ended encounter thanks in no small part to Edin Dzeko, who scored twice and might have had a hat-trick.
The Bosnian, who has had to become accustomed to a role on the substitutes' bench this season, struck twice inside the opening four minutes to put City in control at Carrow Road.
But Norwich hit back through a deflected Anthony Pilkington free kick and the visitors were then dealt a blow when Nasri was sent off for aiming a head-butt at Sebastien Bassong.
Sergio Aguero's deft, lobbed finish restored City's two-goal cushion in the 50th minute and although Russell Martin headed in for Norwich, Dzeko made it 4-2 when his shot hit the post and bounced in off Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn.
Martin scored again with 15 minutes to go, prodding in from close range after City failed to clear a corner, but Roberto Mancini's men were able to hang on.
In the early game, Tottenham overturned a half-time deficit to win 2-1 at Sunderland, provisionally moving them into third place. But their victory was marred after Gareth Bale was shown his fifth yellow card for simulation in 16 months.
Bale was booked by referee Martin Atkinson in the 81st minute after going down under a challenge from Sunderland's Craig Gardner. It was the third time Bale has been booked for diving this season and means he will miss his side's home game with Reading on New Year's Day due to suspension after accumulating five yellow cards.
"That's the third time now I've been clipped and booked for no reason," Bale said. "There's nothing I can do - the referees need to look a bit closer. People think I'm diving when there's contact. If there's contact, it's a penalty or free kick. People keep saying I'm diving, but it doesn't bother me whatsoever. It's a foul and I know it myself."
Bale has been shown five yellow cards for diving since the start of the 2011-12 season. No other player has more than two cautions for the same offence in that time.
Aston Villa's recent miseries continued as they sank 3-0 at home to Wigan Athletic.
Goals from Ivan Ramis, Emmerson Boyce and Arouna Kone put paid to Paul Lambert's young team, who have now shipped 15 goals in three games after losing 8-0 to Chelsea and 4-0 to Spurs.