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LONDON - A last-gasp goal by Cristiano Ronaldo earned Manchester United a 2-1 smash-and-grab victory at Fulham in the Premier League today.

Leaders United took their points tally to 69 from 28 games, nine ahead of second-placed Chelsea who take on Arsenal in the League Cup final in Cardiff on Sunday.

Liverpool, third on 53 points, destroyed Sheffield United 4-0 while Charlton Athletic swept past relegation rivals West Ham United 4-0 and Middlesbrough beat Reading 2-1.

In the day's late kickoff, Everton won 3-0 at bottom club Watford thanks to goals from Manuel Fernandes, Andy Johnson (penalty) and Leon Osman.

Fulham were on top from the start at Craven Cottage and took a 17th-minute lead when Brian McBride pounced to score his ninth league goal of the season after a mix-up between United central defender Nemanja Vidic and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

The visitors equalised 12 minutes later when Ryan Giggs volleyed his third goal in four matches following a far-post cross from Wayne Rooney.

But it was Fulham who looked by far the more threatening side until Ronaldo's 88th-minute goal, the Portugal winger beating two men on the left before cutting in and delivering a right-foot shot that deflected past keeper Jan Lastuvka.

United manager Alex Ferguson showed his relief at the final whistle, jumping for joy on the touchline and hugging his backroom staff.

Asked if it had been a smash-and-grab win, Ferguson replied: "To put it mildly...Fulham will feel very aggrieved at not winning the match.

"I thought it was a very significant result for us. I must say it was the most difficult match we've had all season," the Scot told Sky television.

Fulham piled on the pressure in the second half only to be kept at bay by their former keeper Van der Sar.

The Dutch international went full length to palm away a ferocious volley by Simon Davies before Tomasz Radzinski headed against the crossbar from three metres after a right-wing cross from Michael Brown.

Van der Sar denied Davies again when the former Everton winger was clean through in the 64th minute and also did well to keep out a stinging drive from McBride after another flowing Fulham move five minutes later.

"It was an uphill fight after Fulham's early goal and we just have to thank the two goal scorers for getting us out of a hole," added Ferguson.

"Van der Sar's performance in the second half was one of the main reasons we won the game."

Former England striker Robbie Fowler converted two penalties before second-half goals from Sami Hyypia and Steven Gerrard completed Liverpool's rout of Sheffield United.

Rafa Benitez's team also broke a top-flight club record of eight successive clean sheets at Anfield.

Charlton manager Alan Pardew, sacked by West Ham earlier in the season, watched his new team cruise to victory over his former club at the Valley.

England striker Darren Bent marked his first start since injuring his knee in December by netting for the hosts. Jerome Thomas (2) and Darren Ambrose were also on target against West Ham, who are managed by former Charlton boss Alan Curbishley.

The win was not enough to lift Charlton, who have 23 points, out of the relegation zone. West Ham swap places with their London rivals, slipping to second bottom on 20 points.

Strike partners Mark Viduka and Yakubu Aiyegbeni led Middlesbrough to victory over Reading, who were beaten for the first time in 2007 despite a late goal from John Oster.

On Monday, Wigan Athletic host Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur entertain Bolton Wanderers and Portsmouth travel to Blackburn Rovers.

- REUTERS