Liverpool miss chance to go six points clear; Villa third

Liverpool missed a golden chance to extend their lead to six points at the top of the English Premier League as they were held to a goalless draw at Stoke City on Saturday, dpa reported.

Steven Gerrard hit the woodwork twice in the second half but Liverpool could not break down a well-organized Stoke side and had to settle for a draw, taking them four points clear of Chelsea.

Champions Manchester United, who now trail Liverpool by eight points but have three games in hand, are away to Chelsea on Sunday.

Aston Villa moved above United into third with a 2-1 win over bottom side West Bromwich Albion.

At the Britannia Stadium, Liverpool left Fernando Torres and Robbie Keane on the bench and the leaders were toothless as Stoke made life difficult for them.

Rafael Benitez's side were distinctly below par throughout, and Stoke caused them all sorts of problems with their tenacity and the long throws of Rory Delap.

Dave Kitson hit the side-netting for Stoke while Glenn Whelan curled a free kick just wide.

Torres came on for the last half hour but had little chance to have an influence on the match.

Gerrard fizzed a free kick onto the bar and then was unlucky to see his outstretched shot clip the post, but Stoke deserved their point, repeating their 0-0 draw at Anfield from earlier in the season.

Aston Villa continued their quest for a Champions League place as they beat local rivals West Bromwich Albion 2-1 despite not being at their best.

Curtis Davies and an own goal by goalkeeper Scott Carson were enough to give Villa victory and move them above Manchester United and to within one point of second-placed Chelsea.

Davies headed the opening goal against his former side, getting on the end of Gareth Barry's cross after 19 minutes.

The defender then waved his team-mates away when they came to him to celebrate. "I have a lot of respect for West Brom and I wish them well. I did not want their fans to hate me even more," he explained.

Villa dominated the first half and doubled their lead four minutes before the break when Gabriel Agbonlahor's shot was turned into his own net by Carson.

West Brom came out firing in the second half and James Morrison halved the deficit with a deflected strike on 49 minutes.

Villa cruised through most of the rest of the second half, but West Brom might have had a penalty in time added on, only for referee Steve Bennett to wave away the appeals for what the visitors thought was a foul by Ashley Young.

"I think it was a decent shout," West Brom manager Tony Mowbray said. "I don't think there was any contact with the ball," he said. "It wasn't given, but you have to get on with it."

"A draw would not have been an injustice."

Villa, though, remain on course for a Champions League place, although Stilyan Petrov admitted it had not been an easy match.

"It was very hard work. We made it hard for ourselves," the midfielder said. "They started very brightly and created chances in the first 20 minutes.

"We'll take every game as it comes. We are in a very good position."

West Brom remain bottom of the table on 18 points, thanks to an inferior goal difference to Blackburn Rovers, whose trip to Fulham was postponed because of a frozen pitch.

At the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal left it late to snatch all three points against Bolton, with Nicklas Bendtner scoring the only goal of the game six minutes from time.

The win lifted Arsenal level on points with Manchester United.

"We are already swimming enough against the stream not to drop points against Bolton," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said.

"We were solid defensively and now we have won 1-0 three times, which is a good basis.

"We must just take it game by game because every match is difficult."

Everton remain just three points further back after they cruised to a 2-0 win over Hull City, who have now lost four consecutive games.

Craig Bellamy scored against one of his former sides but West Ham United had to settle for a 2-2 draw at Newcastle United, for whom Andy Carroll headed the equalizer 12 minutes from the end.

Afonso Alves put Middlesbrough ahead at home to Sunderland but Kenwyne Jones equalized for the visitors.

The match between Portsmouth and Manchester City was also postponed because of the weather.

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