ROUNDUP: Manchester United rue "costly" loss; Chelsea beaten
London - Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted his side's 2-0 defeat at Fulham on Saturday could prove costly in the race for the English Premier League title.
The title battle was blown wide open as goals from Danny Murphy and Zoltan Gera gave United, who ended the match with nine men after Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney were sent off, their second straight defeat - the first time that has happened since 2005.
Chelsea, who began the day level with Liverpool in second, missed the chance to cut the gap as they were beaten 1-0 at Tottenham, and Liverpool can now move onto United's shoulders if they beat Aston Villa on Sunday.
United will still have a game in hand and remain in pole position, but Ferguson admitted that the defeat was disappointing.
"Fulham were lively and got stuck in and we respect that," Ferguson said.
"It's disappointing we didn't meet the challenge. If you lose games in March and April it can cost you."
United were hoping to bounce back from their 4-1 mauling by Liverpool at Old Trafford last weekend but their plans went awry inside 20 minutes.
After seeing his initially header well saved by Edwin van der Sar, Bobby Zamora headed the rebound goalwards but Scholes thrust his hands in the air to stop it and was promptly sent off.
Up stepped Danny Murphy - the former Liverpool player - and he coolly dispatched the penalty to put the home side ahead.
Fulham had several chances to go further ahead in the first half and only Van der Sar prevented them from doubling their lead.
Ferguson brought on Rooney at half-time and the visitors piled on the pressure, but they could not force the breakthrough.
And after holding out under concerted pressure, Fulham doubled their lead in spectacular style when Gera teed the ball up for himself and volleyed in the second.
Rooney was then sent off for a second bookable offence and when the final whistle went, it meant United have lost back to back Premier League games for the first time since 2005, while Fulham moved up to eighth.
Luka Modric scored the only goal of the game at White Hart Lane, sweeping Aaron Lennon's pull-back into the corner to give Spurs a 1-0 win over Chelsea.
A point-blank header from John Terry was brilliantly saved by Heurelho Gomes and Alex headed onto the bar in the closing minutes as Tottenham hung on to move up to ninth and dent Chelsea's slim title hopes.
"We won't give on the title, but today was an ideal opportunity to close the gap on Manchester United and we missed it," Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink said.
"These are the days you look back on and regret very much when you are in a title race. We cannot afford to drop two or three points in any game if we want to catch United, and today we have lost - it's a huge blow.
"Still, we have two other roads to trophies and we must learn a big lesson from today if we want to challenge for those."
Arsenal cemented fourth place with a 3-1 win at Newcastle United, putting them three points clear of Villa in the race for the fourth Champions League spot.
Goals from Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri - all in the space of 10 second-half minutes - sealed another victory for Arsene Wenger's side and dropped Newcastle United into the relegation zone.
In the day's other games, Robert Koren scored the equalizer as bottom side West Brom drew 1-1 with Bolton, while Stoke City moved out of the bottom three with a 1-0 win over fellow relegation candidates Middlesbrough.
Portsmouth moved away from danger with a 2-1 win over Everton thanks to two headed goals from Peter Crouch and Blackburn drew 1-1 with West Ham. (dpa)