Fulham hand United their second defeat in eight days

LONDON - Champions Manchester United were thrashed 3-0 at Fulham on Saturday to remain three points adrift of Chelsea in the Premier League title race.

LONDON - Champions Manchester United were thrashed 3-0 at Fulham on Saturday to remain three points adrift of Chelsea in the Premier League title race.

Goals by Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff condemned United to their second league defeat in eight days.

Another surprising day in England's top flight began with Liverpool's 2-0 reverse at bottom club Portsmouth, their seventh league defeat this season.

Third-placed Aston Villa moved within two points of United with a 1-0 home victory over Stoke City, and Tottenham Hotspur won 2-0 at Blackburn Rovers to return to the top four.

Manchester City edged a seven-goal thriller against Sunderland at Eastlands, winning 4-3 to claim only their second victory in 11 league matches.

United, fielding a makeshift defence because of a string of injuries, went behind after 22 minutes when midfielder Murphy seized possession from Paul Scholes and fired past goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak from long range.

In the 46th minute, in-form striker Zamora met a Clint Dempsey knockdown to half-volley past Kuszczak and notch his 10th goal of the season.

l Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is convinced his side are contenders for the most open Premier League title race since he came to England more than a decade ago.

The Gunners moved to within two points of second-place Manchester United, who lost at Fulham, thanks to a 3-0 win over Hull City at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Arsenal, who also have a game in hand, beat Liverpool last weekend but dropped points by drawing at Burnley a few days later.

But with no side, including leaders Chelsea, looking invincible, Wenger argued the destiny of the trophy must remain unknown for a while.

l Manchester City boss Hughes watched his side climb to sixth after Sunderland had Michael Turner sent off in stoppage time.

Craig Bellamy set up Roque Santa Cruz for his first league goal for City before Carlos Tevez converted a penalty to make it 2-0 after 12 minutes.

Sunderland hit back to level through defender John Mensah and a rocket shot from Jordan Henderson, only for Bellamy to curl home City's third on 35 minutes.

Kenwyne Jones then headed Sunderland level again before Santa Cruz grabbed his second with 21 minutes to go.

l Earlier, Liverpool lost at Portsmouth after excellent strikes from Nadir Belhadj and Frederic Piquionne.

l Sacked Manchester City manager Mark Hughes said yesterday he was given no advance notice of his dismissal and accused the club's owners of lining up his successor behind his back.

Hughes was fired on Saturday, with the Abu Dhabi-owned club immediately appointing Italian Roberto Mancini in his place.

"I was informed after yesterday's match against Sunderland that my contract with Manchester City was being terminated with immediate effect," Hughes said in a statement issued through the League Managers Association.