LONDON: Chelsea gave their Champions League ambitions a major boost yesterday with a 3-1 win at Birmingham as both Liverpool and Everton dropped crucial points.
At the bottom, Sunderland and West Ham were plunged deeper into the gloom by defeats at Tottenham (4-1) and Leeds (1-0) respectively while West Brom snatched a last gasp equaliser against fellow strugglers Bolton.
A volley from Gianfranco Zola and a bullet header from Eidur Gudjohnsen either side of the half-time break put Chelsea in control at St Andrews.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink then came off the bench to win, then convert, a penalty that made the points secure. A late penalty from Robbie Savage offered scant consolation for the home fans.
The win lifted Chelsea above Newcastle on goal difference in third place in the table. But the Magpies can return to third place if they get something out of their match with leaders Arsenal at St James' Park today.
Charlton passed manager Alan Curbishley's survival target of 40 points with a 2-1 win over Everton at The Valley.
A 19th-minute strike by Bulgarian defender Radostin Kishishev had put the Addicks ahead.
Li Tie set up American striker Brian McBride for an equaliser mid-way through the second-half but it was a misdirected pass by the Chinese midfielder that allowed Kevin Lisbie in to snatch Charlton's winner right at the death.
Earlier in the day, a spectacular free-kick from Cameroon international Geremi helped Middlesbrough deal another blow to Liverpool's Champions League hopes in a 1-1 draw at Anfield.
An equaliser from Norwegian defender John Arne Riise, his sixth of the season, mid-way through the second half cancelled out Geremi's 38th-minute strike but Liverpool were unable to grab a winner.
The dropped points mean Gerard Houllier's side are now six points off the fourth and final qualifying spot for Europe's premier competition with time to make up the lost ground rapidly running out.
Adding to the gloom that has re-descended on the red half of Merseyside since their FA Cup exit at the hands of Crystal Palace in midweek was news that Houllier had been ordered to stay away from yesterday's match by his doctors.
Houllier, who underwent open heart surgery in October 2001, was taken ill on Friday with a reported bout of gastro-enteritis.
Sunderland had looked like putting up a fight when Kevin Phillips equalised Gus Poyet's opener for Tottenham.
But Gary Doherty restored the home side's advantage with a powerful header on the stroke of half-time and second half goals from Simon Davies and Teddy Sheringham saw them run out comfortable winners.
West Ham were left cursing their luck again after going down to a 1-0 defeat at Leeds.
Seth Johnson got the winner but the Hammers came agonisingly close to an equaliser when a Joe Cole shot came back off the inside of the post with Paul Robinson well beaten.
Things got worse for the Hammers with the sending-off of French striker Freddie Kanoute after he clashed with Johnson midway through the second-half.
David Thompson lifted Blackburn back into the top half of the table with a 26th-minute strike that proved to be the winner against Southampton at Ewood Park. – Agencies