Manchester United slipped to a third successive defeat, 1-0 at home to West Bromwich Albion, at the other end of the league and missed the chance to go second behind Chelsea.
Burnley and Queens Park Rangers’ Premier League survival hopes were left hanging by a thread after defeats and unfavourable results elsewhere left them rooted to the foot of the table on Saturday.
Manchester United slipped to a third successive defeat, 1-0 at home to West Bromwich Albion, at the other end of the league and missed the chance to go second behind Chelsea who can lift the title on Sunday by beating Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge.
Most interest on a dramatic Saturday was centred on the relegation dogfight, with Burnley and QPR plummeting ever closer to the trap door.
Mark Noble’s first-half spot kick was enough to condemn Burnley, who had Michael Duff sent off following the award of the penalty, to a 19th league defeat this season as they went down 1-0 at West Ham United.
Sean Dyche’s basement side, who are eight points adrift of safety, now need to win their remaining three games to have any chance of avoiding the drop.
“You can’t guarantee you win with 11 v 11 but it gives you a better chance,” Dyche told Sky Sports. “The way the team operate they will give everything and we will continue to do that.”
Burnley have won many plaudits with their effort and application this season but a measly return of 26 goals, the lowest in the top flight, has undermined their campaign.
The visitors laid siege to West Ham’s goal in the closing stages but were again found wanting in attack.
Second from bottom QPR, one point ahead of Burnley, also face an almost impossible task to preserve their top-flight status after losing 2-1 at Liverpool through goals by Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard.
QPR were desperately close to claiming a credible point but Gerrard, playing his penultimate game at Anfield, headed the winner past keeper Rob Green in the 87th minute after Leroy Fer had equalised Coutinho’s early goal.
“We’ve let another point slip,” said QPR manager Chris Ramsey. “We’ve been poor at maintaining our concentration in the last few minutes in quite a few games.”
The battle to avoid the third and final relegation spot intensified on Saturday with Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Hull City, Leicester and Sunderland now separated by just two points.
Resurgent Leicester recorded their fifth win in six league matches thanks to Leonardo Ulloa’s double in a 3-0 victory against free-falling Newcastle.
Newcastle finished with nine men after Mike Williamson and Daryl Janmaat were sent off in the second half.
Sunderland, third from bottom and with a game in hand, are one point behind Leicester after a much-needed 2-1 win over Southampton that arrived courtesy of two penalties from Jordi Gomez.
In-form Christian Benteke netted twice and Tom Cleverley also struck as Villa beat Everton 3-2.
Manchester United were left bemoaning missed opportunities and a brilliant goalkeeping display from Albion’s Boaz Myhill who saved a late Robin van Persie penalty at Old Trafford.
Myhill was decsribed by United manager Louis van Gaal as “fantastic” as he made a series of excellent stops to keep the home side at bay.
The only goal arrived in the 63rd minute when a free kick from Chris Brunt took a big deflection off team mate Jonas Olsson.
“You are attacking all the match and when you don’t score it is very disappointing,” said Van Gaal as he reflected on his side drawing a blank for the third game running. “The finishing wasn’t good enough.”
United are still fourth on 65 points, four clear of fifth-placed Liverpool and two adrift of Arsenal, who have played two matches fewer, and Manchester City who have one game in hand.
Last year’s champions Manchester City visit Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday while Arsenal travel to Hull on Monday.