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Manchester United takes Premier League lead with 6-0 rout of Newcastle

LONDON - Manchester United beat Newcastle 6-0 on Saturday to go top of the Premier League after Arsenal failed to win at home for just the second time this season.

LONDON - Manchester United beat Newcastle 6-0 on Saturday to go top of the Premier League after Arsenal failed to win at home for just the second time this season.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a second-half hat trick at Old Trafford to lead United to a win that takes it above Arsenal, which could only draw 1-1 with Birmingham.

Emmanuel Adebayor put Arsenal ahead with a penalty kick in the 21st minute, but Garry O'Connor drew Birmingham even early in the second half with a deflected header.

Chelsea is just four points behind Arsenal after extending its unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge against Tottenham to 20 games with a 2-0 win, while Liverpool lost more ground on the leading teams with a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough that will increase the pressure on manager Rafa Benitez.

Newcastle is without a full-time manager following the mid-week departure of Sam Allardyce, but almost took the lead at Old Trafford. Striker Michael Owen was only denied a shooting chance when he was ruled offside.

Ronaldo put United ahead in the 49th, waiting for the defensive wall to jump before putting his free kick under it and into the net.

Six minutes later, Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given hit a clearance against teammate Claudio Cacapa and the ball rebounded to Ryan Giggs, who set up Carlos Tevez for an easy finish.

With England coach Fabio Capello watching, Wayne Rooney headed wide before Ronaldo made it 3-0 in the 70th.

United completed the rout with three goals in the last five minutes.

Rio Ferdinand scored before Ronaldo hit his third goal to make it 22 for the season, and Tevez rounded off the scoring with a volley that hit the bar and bounced down near the line.

United now has 51 points and leads Arsenal on goal difference.

Arsenal was awarded a penalty kick when Stephen Kelly tackled Eduardo da Silva from behind in the area, even though the defender seemed to have got a touch on the ball.

Adebayor hit the kick to goalkeeper Maik Taylor's left for his 13th goal of the season.

Birmingham was denied a penalty of its own when Philippe Senderos brought down Olivier Kapo in the area, but drew even three minutes after halftime when O'Connor headed a corner by former Arsenal striker Sebastian Larsson into the net off a deflection from Cesc Fabregas.

"They are a great side, but our organization and shape were a credit to the players," Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said. "They know how to shut up shop against the bigger teams."

Birmingham is just the second team - after Manchester United - to avoid defeat at Arsenal in the Premier League this season.

"We thought it was going to be too easy," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "We were not sharp enough and they defended well.

"Every game is important so it's hard to say which is the crucial month, but today we lost two points we shouldn't have lost."

Liverpool was saved from defeat by a 71st-minute goal from Fernando Torres, the Spain striker's 17th of the season.

Middlesbrough had taken the lead in the 26th when George Boateng collected a header from Tuncay Sanli and shot into an empty net.

Benitez took off a defender and brought on winger Ryan Babel at halftime to try and salvage a result, and Andriy Voronin and Torres soon had chances.

Liverpool could have fallen further behind when Jeremie Aliadiere rounded goalkeeper Pepe Reina outside the area but could only put the ball across the empty goal.

Gary O'Neil then missed two chances for Boro before Torres scored with a 25-metre shot.

"We were not controlling the game, but the second half was much better," Benitez said. "A draw away sometimes is good but, now (that) we want to win every game, it is not."

Liverpool retook fourth place from Manchester City but is now eight points behind third-place Chelsea.

Liverpool was joined on 39 points by city rival Everton, which beat visiting Manchester City 1-0 through a 31st-minute goal from Joleon Lescott.

Aston Villa also has 39 after its 3-1 win over visiting Reading.

Tottenham's hopes of a first win at Chelsea since 1990 were boosted by the absence of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou at the African Cup of Nations, and Andriy Shevchenko, Frank Lampard and John Terry through injury.

But Spurs, who drew 1-1 at Arsenal in a midweek League Cup match, fell behind in the 19th when Juliano Beletti was allowed to advance from defence unchallenged and hit a 30-metre shot into the top of the net.

It was Beletti's first goal at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea's only score until 10 minutes from the end when winger Shaun Wright-Phillips hit a low shot into the corner.

Chelsea improved to 47 points, 23 more than Tottenham, which is still mired in mid table despite improved performances under coach Juande Ramos.

West Ham rallied to a 2-1 win over next-to-last Fulham, while Wigan edged away from the relegation zone with a 1-0 win at last-place Derby, which has seven points.

Wigan now has 20, three more than 18th-place Sunderland, which hosts Portsmouth on Sunday.

Bolton hosts Blackburn in Sunday's other game.

West Brom kept the lead of the second-tier League Championship with a 2-1 win at Hull, and was two points clear of Bristol City, which drew 1-1 with lowly Colchester.

 
 
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