In the mid-week fixtures in the English Premier League, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all found important wins in pursuit of the title.
League Leaders Manchester United swept aside Aston Villa with a 3-1 win, helped by two goals from the resurgent Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford.
Rooney, who has been unable to replicate the scintillating form he displayed last season, looked back to his best after getting a vote of confidence by Sir Alex Ferguson. Rooney found the net just a minute into the game after a long kick forward from keeper Edwin Van der Sar was seized on by Rooney with a delicate touch before putting it beyond Villa's keeper Brad Friedel.
He got his second at the stroke of half-time when touching in Nani's cross. Villa's record signing Darren Bent got one back or the Villains Rooney set up Nemanja Vidic to all but seal the victory.
Fernando Torres' new club Chelsea battled to an impressive 4-2 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. In the reverse fixture, Sunderland had caught Chelsea at their worst to beat them 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, and the signs of a repeat were conspicuous when early on, Phil Bardsley opened the scoring with a low shot from outside the box that caught Blues keeper Cech by surprise.
However, Chelsea had improved dramatically since the last encounter between the two sides, and Frank Lampard lashed home from the spot after Ahmed Elmohamady felled Ashley Cole in the box. Salomon Kalou then gave Chelsea the lead after being slipped in behind the defence by Anelka, and the Ivorian struck a neat finish into an empty net after Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon came out for the ball.
However, Sunderland hit right back to make for a pulsating game. Kieran Richardson smashed home a low free-kick under Chelsea's jumping and into the corner of Cech's goal and the tie went into half-time level at 2-2.
In the second half, Chelsea pressed on in attempt to find the lead and came very close through Branislav Ivanovic, who hit the bar and Nicolas Anelka, Michael Essien and Lampard, who were all denied by the excellent Gordon.
Lampard, in particular had Gordon's gloves stinging, drawing good saves out of the keeper on four occasions. Their lead came after one such attempt when Lampard drew a good save off Gordon with a half-volley from outside the box, the rebound fell to skipper John Terry who swung in for the third. Kalou then saw his shot come out despite hitting both the posts before Anelka, who had a brilliant game, rightfully sealed the win with a close-range finish late on.
Second placed Arsenal kept pace with Manchester United with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Everton.
Everton opened the scoring controversially on 23 minutes when Louis Saha, who appeared to be offside, collected a pass from Seamus Coleman and shot into the corner. Though Arsenal protested vehemently, referee Lee Mason allowed the goal to stand.
However, Arsenal launched a comeback in the second half, helped by substitute Andrei Arshavin. The Russian, who has come under criticism for his form in recent weeks, latched onto Cesc Fabregas' the ball and struck beyond Everton keeper Tim Howard.
Arsenal continued pressing and the comeback was completed when, 15 minutes from time, Laurent Koscielny head home from a Robin van Persie corner.
Elsewhere, West Brom and Wigan played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at The Hawthornes.
Manchester United head the table with 54 points, five ahead of second-placed Arsenal. Manchester City are four points behind on third and have a chance to cut the deficit with a visit to Birmingham on Wednesday. Chelsea make up the top four, one points behind City with 44 points.