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Derby defeats for Birmingham City and Sunderland left them fearing for their English Premier League futures as Aston Villa and Newcastle inflicted painful reverses yesterday.
Villa crushed Birmingham 5-1 to keep their city rivals stuck in the relegation zone while Michael Owen scored both goals as the Magpies won the north-east derby 2-0, leaving Sunderland just five points above the drop.
In yesterday's other match, Manchester City beat visitors Portsmouth 3-1 to put a dent in FA Cup finalists Pompey's hopes of overtaking Everton in the race for the league's UEFA Cup spot.
At St James' Park, Owen scored a fourth-minute header then earned and finished off a penalty on the stroke of half-time. However, the England striker was reluctant to discuss his long-term future on Tyneside as contract negotiations loom.
"Talks haven't begun yet. The manager has pulled me to one side and said he wants me to stay and the club would be in touch soon and that's where we stand," the Newcastle captain said.
"I haven't spoken to the club yet but obviously I would think in the close season then maybe they will approach me or my advisor."
Sunderland boss Roy Keane was left to reflect on a defeat that left his team just five points above the drop zone with three games remaining.
"At this level, you tend to find the teams around the bottom. We seem to give the teams nearer the top a helping hand," the combative Irishman said.
"We have done that in so many games this season. We did it last weekend and we have done it again today. They were two really bad goals to concede."
Ashley Young was the star at Villa Park, scoring two goals and playing a part in two others for Norway striker John Carew.
Mikael Forssell pulled one back for the visitors but Gabriel Agbonlahor added a late fifth for Villa.
Birmingham are one point from safety with three games left.
"We thought we could get something from Villa Park by being organised and tight, but they played fantastically, and their front men caused havoc," lues manager Alex McLeish said. - Sapa-AFP