Kagawa hat trick keeps United on course for title
LONDON (AP) — Shinji Kagawa's hat trick and a stunning goal from Wayne Rooney maintained Manchester United's march to the Premier League title on Saturday, while Rafa Benitez was spared a fierce backlash from Chelsea fans in the team's 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
Luis Suarez matched Kagawa's exploits by scoring three times in Liverpool's 4-0 win over Wigan, lifting him above United striker Robin van Persie to the top of the division's scoring charts with 21 goals.
United provisionally moved 15 points clear with a 4-0 thrashing of Norwich at Old Trafford, with Japan midfielder Kagawa opening the scoring just before halftime and grabbing two more well-taken goals to become the first Asian player to score a hat trick in England's top division.
"It was a brilliant day for him," said United manager Alex Ferguson, who left Ryan Giggs out of the matchday squad to keep the veteran midfielder waiting for his 1,000th senior competitive appearance for club and country.
Rooney garnished the scoreline with a long-distance screamer in injury time as United warmed up for its Champions League match against Real Madrid in style. Second-place Manchester City plays Aston Villa on Monday.
Chelsea provisionally moved into third place — four points behind City — thanks to Demba Ba's 28th-minute winner, giving Benitez some respite after his midweek tirade against the club's fans and board that appeared to leave him in a precarious position.
The hostility among the home support was expected to be cranked up but the atmosphere was relatively calm inside Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the serenity to secure a crucial win in its battle for a finish in the Champions League spots.
"There were a lot of positives," Benitez said. "The reception from the crowd was quite good. I wanted everybody to stick together."
Tottenham, which provisionally slipped to fourth, hosts fifth-place Arsenal on Sunday.
Last-place Queens Park Rangers gave its survival hopes a boost by winning 2-1 at Southampton to move three points adrift of Reading, which lost 3-1 at Everton.
Swansea's first game since winning the League Cup final last weekend ended in a 1-0 victory at home to Newcastle, with Luke Moore scoring a late winner, while Sunderland came from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Fulham.
West Ham stopped its slide into the relegation trouble by beating Stoke 1-0 away.
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