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English Premiership

Blues in seventh heaven

LONDON, April 26 – Salomon Kalou scored a hat-trick as Chelsea returned to the top of the English Premier League with a 7-0 thrashing of Stoke at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Victory saw Carlo Ancelotti’s men leapfrog champions Manchester United and left the Londoners a point in front with two games to play after they’d scored seven goals in a match for the third time this season.

Ivory Coast international Kalou stooped to head the Blues in front from a Didier Drogba cross in the 24th minute.

And seven minutes later, he doubled the Londoners’ lead with a driven strike.

Before half-time, he was involved in the build up to Chelsea’s third which came after visitors Stoke had seen goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen go off with a shoulder injury.

Kalou went down under a challenge from former Chelsea defender Robert Huth which began outside the box but a penalty was awarded and England midfielder Frank Lampard scored from the spot.

Kalou’s grand day got even better in the 68th minute when he completed his treble on the follow-up after Stoke substitute keeper Asmir Begovic had blocked his initial shot.

Lampard added a fifth and further goals from Daniel Sturridge and Florent Malouda gave Chelsea a plus eight goal difference advantage over United, which could yet prove crucial in deciding the title race.

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But, having seen his side lose to Tottenham last weekend, goal difference was the last thing on Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti’s mind.

"It was a fantastic performance for us. We scored many goals, but I think that we will not be even with Manchester United (at the end of the season)," Ancelotti, whose side next face Liverpool, said.

"One team will be first."

Chelsea’s win was all the more impressive as they were without suspended captain and England defender John Terry.

Earlier, James Milner kept Aston Villa’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League alive by scoring a contentious penalty in a 1-0 derby win over Birmingham City.

But at the other end of the table, Burnley’s relegation from the English Premier League was confirmed with a 4-0 loss to Liverpool that saw the Clarets go straight back down to the Championship where they will be joined by previously relegated Portsmouth.

However, Liverpool’s win reignited their own bid for a Champions League place next term.

"We know it will be very difficult but we will try," said Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. "We were expecting something more but hopefully we can be stronger next season."

Victory was secured by four second half goals with England midfielder Steven Gerrard netting twice and Maxi Rodriguez and Ryan Babel weighing in with one apiece.

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"We’ve had the lowest budget in the Premier League and nearly did the impossible," said Burnley manager Brian Laws. "I’ll be here next season and I’m looking forward to the fight and to bouncing back."

Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta’s late penalty saw Everton to a 2-1 win at home to Fulham after they’s equalised through a Chris Smalling own-goal in a match where the Cottagers had gone ahead through Erik Nevland.

England midfielder Milner scored from the spot seven minutes from time after City’s Roger Johnson was ruled to have brought down Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor in the box.

However, Birmingham were incensed by referee Martin Atkinson’s decision, with replays indicating Johnson had won the ball.

Villa are now level on points with fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, who currently occupy the last Champions League place on offer to English clubs, although thy have played one game more and have an inferior goal difference.

"There’s no dispute about it because it’s a penalty kick," said Villa boss Martin O’Neill. "I’ve seen it back since, and it’s a penalty."

City manager Alex McLeish, whose team found Villa keeper Brad Friedel in fine form, unsurprisingly had a different view of Atkinson’s decision although Birmingham remained ninth despite this loss.

"Viewers all over the world have seen it and it was a bad mistake by the referee."

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