WRAPUP 1-Manchester United drop points in Newcastle draw

Updated: January 1, 2007, 3:47 PM ET
Reuters

By Trevor Huggins

LONDON, Jan 1 - Premier League leaders Manchester United were held to a 2-2 draw at Newcastle United on Monday in a setback that will give fresh hope to champions Chelsea.

Alex Ferguson's men were trailing to a fine James Milner goal before Paul Scholes scored either side of halftime to give them a 2-1 lead -- only for Canadian defender David Edgar to grab Newcastle's equaliser in the 73rd minute on his home debut.

Manchester United are top with 54 points from 22 games, while second-placed Chelsea have 47 points from 21 before their game at Aston Villa on Tuesday.

Liverpool had earlier turned on the style in the second half to beat Bolton Wanderers 3-0 and leapfrog their Lancashire rivals into third place on 40 points.

Fifth-placed Arsenal, on 36, are at home to relegation battlers Charlton Athletic on Tuesday, while sixth-placed Portsmouth were held 1-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur.

It was a particularly bleak day for West Ham United, who were crushed 6-0 at Reading and are rooted in the drop zone.

Up at the top of the table, the title race looks set for another twist this week after Manchester United missed the chance to build up a nine-point lead on Tyneside.

Milner gave Newcastle a 33rd-minute lead with a glorious shot into the top right-hand corner after cutting in from the left but it was soon cancelled out by a snap shot from Scholes.

Manchester United's South Korean midfielder Park Ji-sung hit the post in stoppage time but Scholes had better luck just 23 seconds into the second half when he cracked a low drive past two Newcastle defenders and keeper Shay Given.

Newcastle looked destined for defeat before 19-year-old Edgar, playing only because of an injury to Peter Ramage, beat keeper Edwin van der Sar with a daisy-cutter from 20 metres.

FERGUSON DEFENDS

Asked about the duel with Chelsea, Ferguson told Sky Sports: "I made the point some weeks ago -- there will be points dropped by both teams.

"It's a real challenge now for the championship, they (Chelsea) are not getting their way as they did in the last two years. We are a serious contender now."

Yet Ferguson, who said French striker Louis Saha would be out for about two weeks after a first-half groin injury, regretted his side's lack of finishing.

"Bear in mind the spirit and character of the Newcastle team. They've deserved their point without question ... it's not an easy place to come to now," Ferguson said.

But he added: "We should have won the match with the chances we had."

Liverpool's earlier game was a drab affair for the first hour but then changed completely in less than two minutes.

Peter Crouch scored with an overhead kick in the 61st minute and Steven Gerrard, awarded an MBE in Queen Elizabeth's New Year's Honours List, clipped in a neatly-taken, side-footed volley.

Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt tucked in the third seven minutes from time to leave manager Rafael Benitez smiling.

"It was a very good game, especially the second half, there were some good goals and (it is) a fantastic beginning of the year," he told Sky Sports.

Reading, who held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw last week and made Manchester United work hard for a 3-2 win two days ago, swamped West Ham from the start.

Brynjar Gunnarsson and Stephen Hunt had them two up after 15 minutes and an Anton Ferdinand own goal and a Kevin Doyle shot made it 4-0 at halftime.

Leroy Lita got the fifth eight minutes into the second half and Doyle's 10th of the season completed West Ham's third defeat in a row.

Manchester City made it three wins in a row with a 2-1 home victory over Everton and Blackburn Rovers beat Wigan Athletic 3-0, their third win since losing 6-2 at Arsenal on Dec. 23.

(Additional writing by Mitch Phillips)

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