Soccer: Gunners back up to third as Reading, QPR near drop

Arsenal returned to third place in the Premier League table with a 1-0 win at 10-man Fulham yesterday, while Reading and Queens Park Rangers slipped ever closer to relegation.

Arsenal were given a huge advantage in the 12th minute at Craven Cottage when Steve Sidwell was shown a straight red card for catching Mikel Arteta on the ankle with his studs.

Sidwell had only just returned from a three-match ban after a red card at home to QPR.

The only goal came just before halftime, a header from central defender Per Mertesacker.

It should have been a straightforward victory, but the visitors were unable to kill the game off and then lost Olivier Giroud to a late red card after he clumsily fouled Stanislav Manolev.

"We had a positive first half but in the second half we became sloppy with our passing and played with less pace to our game," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Victory lifted Arsenal above Chelsea, but both the Stamford Bridge club and fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur now have two games in hand on Wenger's side.

Chelsea will regain third place if they win at Liverpool early today, while Spurs can close to within two points of their north London rivals if they overcome second-place Manchester City, also early today.

At the other end of the table, Queens Park Rangers and Reading appear to be living on borrowed time after both sides lost and saw three of the sides above them win.

Bottom club Reading went down 2-1 at Norwich City, to leave Nigel Adkins' men 10 points from safety with only 12 points to play for.

QPR are above Reading on goal difference after a 2-0 loss at home to Stoke City, who claimed a first win in eight games to ease their own relegation fears.

Peter Crouch and Jon Walters with a twice-taken penalty got Stoke's goals.

The defeats for the bottom two mean that both sides could be relegated as early as tonight but only if fourth-bottom Aston Villa win at leaders Manchester United.

"It looks almost impossible, doesn't it? It would take a real miracle," said QPR manager Harry Redknapp.

Wigan Athletic spurned an opportunity to move level on points with Villa after a 2-0 defeat at West Ham United left the FA Cup finalists in the bottom three.

Sunderland moved six points clear of the drop zone with a 1-0 win over Everton; Newcastle United slipped three places to 16th after a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion; while Swansea City and Southampton played out a goalless draw in their mid-table tussle.

•Cardiff will go into the Premier League as Championship winners after clinching the second tier title with a 1-1 draw at Burnley.

Malky Mackay's side had already ended their 51-year wait for promotion to the top-flight thanks to their midweek draw with Charlton and now they are guaranteed to finish the season in first place as well.

"We've been sitting there since late November and it's been an awful long time for us to be top and be chased and be examined. I think they deserve it," Mackay said.

Second-placed Hull, who drew 0-0 with Bristol City, remain in pole position to go up alongside Cardiff, but they were unable to confirm promotion as third-placed Watford thrashed Blackburn 4-0.

All Whites striker Chris Wood's second-half equaliser, his 20th goal of the season, could not prevent Leicester slipping out of the playoff places after a 2-2 draw at fifth-placed Crystal Palace.

Bolton's 2-1 win over Middlesbrough saw them leapfrog Leicester into sixth, while Palace's run of seven without a win leaves them just two points clear of Leicester.

•A late Carl Finnigan strike helped Dundee beat 10-man St Mirren 2-1 to keep their anticipated relegation from the Scottish Premier League on hold.

That kept the gap between the two bottom teams to 10 points with four games left.

Celtic, who faced Inverness Caledonian Thistle early today, need just a point to clinch their second successive SPL title. AFP

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