Manchester United beat West Ham 1-0 to stay atop English soccer’s Premier League as Chelsea played a second straight goalless draw for interim coach Rafael Benitez.
Robin van Persie scored after 33 seconds as United maintained its one-point lead over defending champion Manchester City, which beat Wigan 2-0. The Manchester rivals were the only teams among the top six entering last night to win last night.
“We got the three points and are still ahead in the league,” United manager Alex Ferguson said on the club’s website. “City are still on our tails and it’s going to be a long season.”
Swansea beat West Brom 3-1, Everton and Arsenal drew 1-1, Tottenham beat Liverpool 2-1, Southampton tied Norwich 1-1 and Stoke defeated Newcastle 2-1 in the night’s other games.
Van Persie’s goal at Old Trafford was the fastest in the league this season. It was his 12th score since moving from Arsenal in August.
Van Persie took a pass from Michael Carrick at the edge of the area, turned past defender Winston Reid and sent a shot that looped off James Collins and over goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen into the net.
West Ham’s Kevin Nolan then re-directed a corner kick into the side of the net and Andy Carroll sent a volley over the goal. Jaaskelainen saved against Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney in the second half, while United keeper Anders Lindegaard stopped a close-range chance late from Carlton Cole.
“It was a hard night and we played a lot of good football but we never quite finished them off,” Ferguson said. “West Ham fought hard and made it difficult for us.”
Second-half goals from Mario Balotelli and James Milner helped Manchester City keep pace with United. Balotelli scored his first league goal in the 69th minute and Milner clinched the victory three minutes later with a blast from 25 yards (22 meters) out.
“We found it quite tough going in the first half, but ground it out in the second half and that’s a great three points,” City’s Gareth Barry told Sky Sports.
The victory extends City’s unbeaten run to 20 Premier League matches dating back to last season.
Chelsea fans booed after the home team’s 0-0 draw against Fulham at Stamford Bridge. The Blues also tied Manchester City three days ago as Benitez was given a hostile reception by the fans, who were upset that Roberto di Matteo was fired a week ago after leading the club to the Champions League and F.A. Cup titles last season.
“You always want to win,” Benitez said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. “It was not an easy game, but we still have to improve.”
The draw moved Chelsea into third place on goal difference over West Brom, with both teams on 26 points. Wayne Routledge scored two goals and Miguel Michu had one as Swansea ended West Brom’s four-match winning streak.
Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale scored at White Hart Lane in north London as Tottenham ended Liverpool’s eight-game unbeaten run in the league. The victory moved Spurs into fifth place over Everton and Arsenal, who drew at Goodison Park.
Theo Walcott opened the scoring for the Gunners after 52 seconds and Marouane Fellaini answered for Everton in the 28th minute. It was the sixth tie in eight matches for the Toffees.