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City stumble at Stoke to take wobbly lead

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LONDON, England, March 24 – Manchester City’s Premier League title hopes suffered a setback with a 1-1 draw at Stoke on Saturday as Bolton paid tribute to stricken star Fabrice Muamba with a morale-boosting win over Blackburn.

With leaders Manchester United expected to beat Fulham on Monday, City desperately needed a win at the Britannia Stadium to keep the pressure on their cross-town rivals.

However City were forced to scramble a draw via a deflected long-range shot from Yaya Toure after Stoke striker Peter Crouch had fired City ahead with a spectacular 30-yard volley.

The draw returned City to the top of the table on goal difference but means that United can now open up a crucial three-point lead if they beat Fulham at Old Trafford on Monday.

Elsewhere, Bolton gave Muamba the perfect get well present with a 2-1 victory over fellow strugglers Rovers at the Reebok Stadium, one week after the midfielder collapsed from a heart attack at Tottenham.

Two first-half headers from David Wheater settled the game in Bolton’s favour with Steven Nzonzi getting on the scoresheet for Blackburn.

“In a football context it’s a great end to the week to get three points but the perfect end will be for Fabrice to come out of that hospital better with that big smile of his,” Bolton boss Owen Coyle said.

“Our thoughts are still with him. He’s not only a footballer and a colleague to those players in the dressing room but an outstanding young man.”

Arsenal tightened their grip on third place with a comfortable 3-0 win over Aston Villa — the Gunners’ seventh victory in a row.

First-half goals from Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott and a stunning long-range free-kick from Mikel Arteta were enough for Arsene Wenger’s side, who moved three points clear of Tottenham in fourth place.

Tottenham were held to a 0-0 draw by Chelsea in the early kick-off, a result which leaves the fifth-placed Blues struggling to close the gap on Spurs in the race for a Champions League qualifying place.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp praised his side’s performance but warned they still faced a fight to finish in the top four.

“It was a big point for us. It keeps them five points behind us,” Redknapp told Sky Sports television.

“It was a tough away game. We have a decent enough run-in but you have to be at it in every game.”

But Chelsea interim manager Roberto Di Matteo admitted his team now faced an uphill struggle to secure a top four place.

“We knew we were behind (in the league) and had to catch up. It is not going to be easy but we will try to the end,” Di Matteo said.

Liverpool’s slim hopes of a top four finish were effectively extinguished after Kenny Dalglish’s men suffered a shock 2-1 defeat against Wigan at Anfield.

Wigan stunned Liverpool when Shaun Maloney put the Latics ahead from the penalty spot on 31 minutes after Martin Skrtel’s challenge on Victor Moses.

Liverpool drew level through Luis Suarez immediately after half-time but Gary Caldwell’s 63rd minute winner clinched victory for Wigan and left Dalglish’s side 13 points adrift of fourth place.

Queens Park Rangers — who had stunned Liverpool 3-2 in midweek — were brought down to earth after an emphatic 3-1 loss at Sunderland.

Sunderland’s goals came from Nicklas Bendtner, James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon as QPR saw Djibril Cisse sent off for the second time in his short career with the Londoners following a wild challenge on Fraizer Campbell.

Taye Taiwo scored a late consolation for QPR.

Meanwhile Wolves remain rooted to the foot of the table after a 2-1 defeat to Norwich at Carrow Road.

Wolves snatched a 25th-minute lead through Matt Jarvis but Norwich drew level inside a minute through a Grant Holt strike before the Canaries striker made it 2-1 with a penalty on the stroke of half-time.

Norwich endured a nervous finish when Holt was sent off in the second half but Paul Lambert’s side dug in for the win.

Everton ended a run of two consecutive defeats with a 2-0 win at form team Swansea courtesy of goals from Leighton Baines and Nikica Jelavic.

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