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Manchester City loses ground to United in title race

Manchester City's Javi Garcia (L) challenges Liverpool's Luis Suarez during their English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northern England February 3, 2013.

PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero scored from a near-impossible angle to salvage a 2-2 home draw with Liverpool but a memorable Steven Gerrard goal still helped boost Premier League leaders Manchester United on Sunday.

The irony of one of Liverpool's most battling displays of the season helping arch-rivals United end the weekend nine points clear following Saturday's 1-0 win at Fulham will not be lost of either set of fans but their draw was fully deserved.

Second-placed City have dropped points twice in a week following a 0-0 draw at bottom side Queens Park Rangers and only the most avid fan will think the champions can overhaul United now despite last season's stunning fightback.

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"Liverpool played a good game but we conceded two goals, stupid goals for me," City boss Roberto Mancini told Sky.

With 13 matches remaining, United also have a better goal difference by three but it would have been even worse for City had Argentina striker Aguero not produced a moment of magic in an engaging game 12 minutes from time.

Edin Dzeko had given City the lead midway through the first half and slightly against the run of play when he slotted in James Milner's low cross from close range.

The visitors were unlucky to be behind after Daniel Sturridge had been denied by a last-ditch tackle from Pablo Zabaleta among other Liverpool chances but the former City frontman made it 1-1 after 29 minutes with a fine finish.

He fired in a crisp strike from 25 metres among boos from the home fans with Dzeko lying on the ground following an earlier incident. However the referee rightly ruled it was not a head injury and play was not stopped.

Dzeko was arguably fouled in the buildup but he was protesting on the ground as much as being injured and the Bosnian was subsequently booked for dissent to the linesman.

Sturridge, given his big break at City before leaving for Chelsea and then Liverpool, refused to celebrate his goal but the away fans were soon almost cheering again when Zabaleta's bad backpass just went wide of Joe Hart's post.

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Seventh-placed Liverpool, gradually improving under Brendan Rodgers despite last weekend's FA Cup loss at third tier Oldham Athletic, also managed a 2-2 draw at Arsenal on Wednesday but have not beaten a side in the top half of the league this term.

UNGUARDED NET

Any hopes of doing so against the champions after a bright first half seemed to have been dispelled by City's improved display after the break.

However, out of nowhere Gerrard chested the ball down 30 metres from goal following a clearance from the box and sent a fierce strike into the corner of Hart's net.

City were not to be outdone, though, as Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina came charging out of goal and the box near the left byline and Argentina's Aguero somehow clipped the ball past the Spaniard and into the unguarded net.

Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Gareth Bale earlier showed absent strikers how it was done by blasting in a 67th-minute winner in a 1-0 success at 10-man West Bromwich Albion.

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The victory for fourth-placed Spurs, which came despite their only available forward Jermain Defoe limping off in the first half, put them a point behind Chelsea in third after Rafael Benitez's side lost 3-2 at Newcastle United on Saturday.

The Londoners were helped by West Brom's Macedonia defender Goran Popov being sent off after 48 minutes for spitting at Kyle Walker but Spurs deserved the win because of Welshman Bale.

The 23-year-old's 13th goal in all competitions this term, following another cracker in the 1-1 draw with Norwich City in midweek, showed all his attributes as he evaded a challenge on the edge of the box and let fly with a swerving strike.

"Results went our way yesterday and it was a big chance to capitalise on that. The lads worked thoroughly hard today and deserved the victory," Bale said before remarking on a new more central role where he is not just confined to the wing.

"It's a new experience for me, a chance to improve my game and it gives me another dimension."

With Emmanuel Adebayor away at the African Nations Cup, Spurs' over reliance on out-of-form Defoe has been keenly felt by supporters but world-class Bale is digging them out of holes as a Champions League spot looks more and more a possibility.

Ninth-placed West Brom had decent chances but perhaps missed forward Peter Odemwingie, dropped after turning up at QPR without permission on transfer deadline day as he tried to force through a move.

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