Man Utd strengthen top-four grip as others stumble

(Reuters) – Manchester United took a giant stride towards securing a top-four finish as they battled back to beat Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday after several other sides in the race stumbled.

United grafted to a 2-1 victory thanks to second half goals by Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood after their former striker Danny Welbeck had given Brighton an early lead.

It left second-placed United on 60 points, 14 behind runaway leaders Manchester City but crucially 11 ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and West Ham United.

“It’s always difficult to play Brighton. We have had good results and we’ve earned them the hard way. We managed to find a way in the second half,” manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

United proved the old adage that winning when playing poorly can reap great rewards — a lesson Spurs would do well to take on board after being held to a 2-2 draw at Newcastle United.

Chelsea’s shock 5-2 defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday had opened the door for Tottenham to move above their London rivals into fourth spot and they looked poised to do so as they led 2-1 with Harry Kane’s 18th and 19th league goals of the season after Newcastle had gone in front.

But Joe Willock, on loan from Arsenal, equalised for the hosts in the 85th minute to secure his side a point that by the end of the day looked valuable in their relegation battle.

Spurs have now dropped 11 points due to goals conceded in the final 10 minutes of games this season, the most of any Premier League side.

“We were not far from winning it but, at the same time, we created some instability on the game with so many individual defensive mistakes that we made,” manager Jose Mourinho said.

Newcastle’s relief at securing a point looked like being short-lived when Fulham led at Aston Villa with 15 minutes remaining thanks to a goal by Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Victory for Fulham would have taken them above Newcastle and out of the bottom three for the first time since December but Villa scored three times in nine minutes through Trezeguet’s double and Ollie Watkins to win 3-1 and leave Fulham in trouble.

They remain in 18th place, three points behind Newcastle having also played one game more.

“We need to be brutally honest, the last 15 minutes is not one we can brush under the carpet. If we do that again, we will not win football matches,” manager Scott Parker said.

Southampton all but banished any lingering relegation fears as they came from two goals down to win 3-2 at home to Burnley with Stuart Armstrong, Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond on target.

The action continues on Monday when West Ham United have the chance to move into fourth spot if they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers away while Everton, who are also eyeing a top-four finish, are at home to Crystal Palace.