LONDON, Apr 17 (Reuters) Chelsea swaggered to a 3-0 victory over 10-man Everton today but were denied the chance to celebrate a second consecutive Premier League title by Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.
Chelsea now only need one point from their remaining three league games to pop the champagne, having restored a nine-point lead at the top.
Ivory Coast forward Didier Drogba scored one and made another for Frank Lampard before Michael Essien thundered home Chelsea's third at Stamford Bridge. Lee Carsley was dismissed for Everton two minutes after the re-start with Chelsea 1-0 up.
Jose Mourinho's men had known before kickoff the title would not be theirs on the day after Rooney's brace had earlier given United a 2-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur.
Still firmly on course for the title, Chelsea have 88 points from 35 games, with United lying second on 79 points and Liverpool third on 73.
With an FA Cup semi-final looming against Liverpool on Saturday, Chelsea's next chance of winning the league will be a much-awaited showdown against United at Stamford Bridge on April 29.
Down at the other end of the table, Portsmouth's fine run ended today with a 2-1 defeat at Charlton Athletic that will revive fears of relegation.
Middlesbrough beat West Ham United 2-0, Newcastle United came from behind to beat relegated Sunderland 4-1 in the northeast derby.
MOURINHO'S OPTIMISM Manchester United's victory failed to dent Mourinho's optimism about the title.
''It is not easy for us to lose the three matches, it is not easy for Manchester United to win the three matches and it is not easy for them to turn around the goal difference (of 12).
''But football is football, you never know,'' he told Sky Sports.
''We need a minimum of one point to celebrate.'' Chelsea made a fine start with Drogba tackling back and winning possession near the halfway line before feeding the ball for Lampard to unleash an unstoppable low drive on 28 minutes.
Drogba headed the second from a Lampard corner and Ghana midfielder Essien hammered a superb third into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Manchester United's win also damaged Spurs' hopes of reaching the Champions League qualifiers ahead of north London rivals Arsenal.
Rooney slid home United's opener after an eighth minute breakaway and steered home their second from close range in the 36th after a blunder by Spurs' South Korean defender Lee Young-pyo.
Midfielder Jermaine Jenas scrambled the ball home for Spurs in a 53rd minute melee but their second-half pressure failed to pay off.
Asked about the title race, United manager Alex Ferguson told MUTV: ''If we can win at Stamford Bridge you never know. It keeps our fans interested and everyone at the club motivated.
''Sometimes complacency and relaxation can creep in at this stage of the season but the result against Spurs will keep us going.'' 'BIG BLOW' Fifth-placed Arsenal, who have a game in hand and trail Spurs with 57 points to 61, will host Tottenham at Highbury on Saturday in what should be a thrilling derby.
Spurs manager Martin Jol told Sky Sports: ''It's a big disappointment because we scored an early goal in the second half so maybe a draw would have been deserved. But we couldn't do that, so it's a big blow to us.
''We have to go to Arsenal now and get a result.'' The battle to avoid relegation is equally tight after Portsmouth suffered their first defeat in seven games, having taken the lead at Charlton through Andres D'Alessandro.
Late goals from Bryan Hughes and Darren Bent gave Charlton a victory that keeps Portsmouth 17th, one place above the drop, with 32 points from 35 games.
West Bromwich Albion drew 0-0 at home with Bolton Wanderers to join Birmingham City on 29 points although behind them on goal difference and with one less game remaining. Bottom side Sunderland have 12 points.
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