Premier League round-up
Victories for United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Pompey and West Ham
Cristiano Ronaldo finally broke Derby's stubborn resistance as Manchester United narrowly avoided a major upset at Pride Park to climb back to the top of the table.
With Derby having conceded six at Chelsea in midweek, the Red Devils were expected to have few difficulties in disposing of the doomed Rams, but they had to survive several scares before finally breaking the deadlock 14 minutes from time after creating a host of chances.
Arsenal missed the chance to reclaim top spot in the evening kick-off as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Middlesbrough.
Former Gunner Jeremie Aliadiere gave the visitors a shock first-half lead, but Kolo Toure rescued a point for Arsene Wenger's side when he grabbed an equaliser with just four minutes left on the clock.
There was still time for Mido to be sent-off for Boro following a high challenge on Gael Clichy, but Gareth Southgate's men held on gallantly at the end to earn a share of the spoils.
Liverpool were again indebted to Fernando Torres as the Spanish star scored his 20th Premier League goal of the season against Reading to keep Rafa Benitez's men on course for fourth place.
Chelsea's dogged pursuit of United and Arsenal continued with a 1-0 victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, a defeat which leaves the Black Cats firmly in the relegation scrap.
West Ham's teenage striker Freddie Sears enjoyed a dream debut as he headed home the winner against Blackburn Rovers at Upton Park.
And Aston Villa's fading European hopes suffered what could prove to be a killer blow at Fratton Park with Pompey running out 2-0 winners as both sides ended the match with 10 men.
Manchester United ace Ronaldo prevented Derby from causing one of the upsets of the season with his late volley at Pride Park.
United goalkeeper Ben Foster had been called on to deny Mile Sterjovski, Kenny Miller and David Jones, while the Red Devils were unable to convert a host of chances.
And it was left to Portugal star Ronaldo to grab his 22nd goal in his last 19 Premier League starts when his cushioned finish from Wayne Rooney's cross finally found a way past Roy Carroll.
Torres reached 20 for the season in the Premier League - 18 of them scored at Anfield - as his header completed Liverpool's comeback against Reading.
Marek Matejovsky opened his account for the Royals with a breathtaking strike from the edge of the area as his sweet half-volley from John Oster's free-kick flew into the net via the underside of the crossbar to silence Anfield.
But Javier Mascherano responded with his own long-range special in the 19th minute, his first for Liverpool and only the second of his professional club career.
The Argentina international received possession some 35 yards out before skipping away from Stephen Hunt and unleashing a rising drive that left Marcus Hahnemann grasping at thin air.
John Terry's early header kept Chelsea firmly in the race for the Premier League title and heightened Sunderland's relegation fears.
The England centre-back got in front of Kenwyne Jones to glance Frank Lampard's corner from the left beyond Craig Gordon with just 10 minutes on the clock.
Roy Keane's men battled to get back on terms, but Jones and Dean Whitehead both missed great chances to level in the closing stages while Carlo Cudicini was alert to tip Andy Reid's curling free-kick over the bar in the first half.
Portsmouth striker Jermain Defoe, who scored two in the midweek victory over Birmingham, proved he is loving life on the south coast with an outstanding opener against Aston Villa.
Glen Johnson's superb long ball out of defence was controlled with one touch by the England international before he lifted a delightful lob over the head of Scott Carson.
The scoring then went from the sublime to the ridiculous, with Nigel Reo-Coker inadvertently finding the back of his own net.
Sulley Muntari's measured pass attempted to release Defoe, but Carson was quickly off his line to clear with his feet, only for the ball to strike Reo-Coker on the shins as he tracked back and fly into the back of the unguarded net.
Both teams ended the match with 10 men as Muntari and Olof Mellberg were dismissed for second bookings in the closing stages.
After three successive 4-0 defeats, West Ham made the worst possible start against Blackburn at Upton Park.
The Hammers were caught on the break with David Bentley spraying the ball out to Morten Gamst Pedersen on the left flank who crossed for the unmarked Roque Santa Cruz to glance a header beyond the exposed Robert Green from close range.
But Alan Curbishley's men levelled before the break when a long free-kick from Green was flicked on by Bobby Zamora and Dean Ashton got away from Christopher Samba to lift the ball over Brad Friedel.
Nine minutes from time Ashton's clever back-heel set up substitute Sears, and although Friedel saved his initial effort the youngster kept his cool to dive and head home to cap a dream debut after signing a new deal with the club in midweek.