Chelsea move four points clear

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LONDON, December 21 – Chelsea were left four points clear at the top of the English Premier League table after a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to London rivals West Ham on Sunday.

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Former Hammers midfielder Frank Lampard kept his nerve to draw Chelsea level from the penalty spot in the 61st minute, three-times having to strike the spot-kick after referee Mike Dean twice ordered a re-take for encroachment.

The penalty award was controversial in itself, with Hammers captain Matthew Upson adamant he had played the ball before bringing down Chelsea substitute Daniel Sturridge.

West Ham, managed by former Chelsea hero Gianfranco Zola, would have gone bottom if they had lost.

They went ahead at Upton Park when Alessandro Diamanti scored from the penalty spot after Ashley Cole had fouled Jack Collison.

The result saw Chelsea pull away from second-placed reigning champions Manchester United, who lost ground in the title race with a 3-0 defeat at Fulham on Saturday.

"We played for only 45 minutes and in 45 minutes we were able to a draw," said Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti.

"In the first half we played without intensity, slow, we didn’t move the ball quickly in midfield and West Ham put a lot of pressure on our midfield."

West Ham remain beset by financial uncertainty but Zola said: "It’s not easy but I am sure all these things will make me stronger and better."

In Sunday’s other matches, Wolves climbed out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win at home to Burnley while Birmingham’s five-match winning streak in the top flight ended with a 1-1 draw away to Everton.

Goals from Nenad Milijas and Kevin Doyle ensured Wolves finished a controversial week in style by moving up six places in the table.

Wolves manager Mick McCarthy had been widely criticised for his line-up during a 3-0 away defeat by champions Manchester United on Tuesday.

At Old Trafford, McCarthy had changed all 10 outfield players from the side that beat Tottenham the previous weekend, with American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann the only survivor.

But he ended up with the outcome he wanted as Wolves heaped yet more away-day misery on Burnley.

"Did the win justify my midweek team selection? I’m not looking for it at all, justification or vindication," McCarthy said.

"We’ve had nine points out of 12 since the Birmingham game and people who were here when we played Birmingham would never have thought that.

"It is about all the games, not just about today."

At least McCarthy was still in a job.

Manchester City manager Mark Hughes was sacked on Saturday, just hours after his side defeated Sunderland 4-3 in an Eastlands thriller, and replaced by former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini.

City’s billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour wanted a greater return on his 200-million-pound (225-million-euro) player investment than two wins in 11 Premier League matches.

Hughes though was taken aback by his exit, saying Sunday: "I was given no forewarning as to the club’s decision.

"Given the speed with which my successor’s appointment was announced, it would appear that the club had made its decision some considerable time ago.

"I am extremely disappointed not to have been given the opportunity to see through my plans at the club," the Welshman added.

Saturday also saw Arsenal maintain their title push with a 3-0 win over Hull while Aston Villa and Tottenham kept up their challenge for European football next season with 1-0 and 2-0 wins over Stoke and Blackburn respectively.

Portsmouth piled the pressure on Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez with a 2-0 win at Fratton Park.

West Ham’s draw meant Pompey remained bottom of the table but goals from Nadir Belhadj and Frederic Piquionne gave the south coast side hope of avoiding the drop.

Wigan face relegation-threatened Bolton on Monday.

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