United on brink of 17th title

LONDON - Cristiano Ronaldo's 39th and 40th goals of the season helped Manchester United to a 4-1 victory over West Ham that leaves Sir Alex Ferguson's side on the brink of retaining the Premier League title.

LONDON - Cristiano Ronaldo's 39th and 40th goals of the season helped Manchester United to a 4-1 victory over West Ham that leaves Sir Alex Ferguson's side on the brink of retaining the Premier League title.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Fulham grabbed a survival lifeline with a 2-0 win over Birmingham that lifted them out of the relegation zone and pushed the visitors down to second from bottom.

The Cottagers' win also ensured that Reading, who lost 1-0 at home to Tottenham, slipped into the drop zone with only one match left to play.

But it was a day of celebration for both Wigan and Middlesbrough, who secured their top-flight status for another season with 2-0 wins over Aston Villa and Portsmouth respectively.

Manchester United's win at Old Trafford means they will be sure of becoming English champions for the 17th time if Chelsea lose at Newcastle today, an outcome Ferguson regards as a distinct possibility.

"The way Chelsea have been talking it's as if it's going to be easy up there," said the Scot. "We know from our experience it won't be that way."

Even if Chelsea take the three points today, United's superior goal difference means they will be champions for the 10th time under Ferguson as long as they beat Wigan on the final day of the season, on Sunday, May 11.

Some woeful defending by West Ham allowed Ronaldo to score in the 3rd and 24th minutes, taking his tally of league goals this season to 30 - one short of Alan Shearer's Premier League record.

Carlos Tevez then beat his former teammate Robert Green from nearly 30 yards to end the lunchtime encounter as a contest.

Dean Ashton pulled a goal back for the visitors with a superbly-executed overhead kick two minutes later and United were given temporary cause for concern when, eight minutes before halftime, Nani was sent off for head-butting Lucas Neill.

But even with 10 men, United had too much quality for a lacklustre West Ham side with nothing left to play for, and a deflected shot from Michael Carrick just before the hour mark completed a convincing win.

Wigan's survival was guaranteed by a second-half double from Ecuadorian winger Antonio Valencia which may have ended Villa's hopes of finishing in fifth place.

Villa will miss out on a place in next season's Uefa Cup if Everton, who currently occupy fifth spot, can take a point from their remaining two matches. - Sapa-AFP

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