Champions League places look set in England

By Steve Douglas ,AP

MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City’s disappointing season looks like ending with the consolation prize of Champions League qualification after an unconvincing win over Aston Villa opened a nine-point gap to the fading chasers for the English Premier League’s top four on Saturday.

An 89th-minute goal by Fernandinho earned City a 3-2 victory that moved the soon-to-be-deposed champions provisionally into second place �X above Arsenal and Manchester United, who both play on Sunday. More importantly, City was nine points ahead of fifth-place Liverpool and sixth-place Tottenham with four games remaining after their draws.

Liverpool drew 0-0 at West Bromwich Albion, and Spurs twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Southampton. For two teams looking to reel in what increasingly appears a locked-in top four, a point isn’t enough at this stage.

��It’ll be very difficult now,�� said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, whose team was runner-up last season.

Leicester and Hull enjoyed significant away wins at the bottom of the standings, dropping Sunderland into the relegation zone in what looks like a fight to the final day for survival.

Watford sealed promotion to the Premier League after an eight-year absence by guaranteeing a top-two finish in the second-tier League Championship with a 2-0 win at Brighton.

City secured a fifth straight home win by edging past Villa, but its performance against a side struggling to avoid relegation again underlined the champions’ regression.

Sergio Aguero’s third-minute opener �X following a goalkeeping error by Brad Guzan �X and a 66th-minute free kick by Aleksandar Kolarov should have seen City coast to victory.

However, the swagger of last season has gone, and goals by Tom Cleverley and Carlos Sanchez �X both following misjudgments by City goalkeeper Joe Hart �X drew Villa level by the 85th.

There was still time for a City corner to drift through a crowded penalty box to midfielder Fernandinho, who chested the ball down before finding the net from eight meters.

��It was one of our worst games in possession,�� under-pressure City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. ��It was strange to see the important number of passes we lost.��

Liverpool failed to mark Steven Gerrard’s 500th league appearance for the club with a victory at The Hawthorns, with Jordon Ibe going closest when his deflected shot hit the goal frame.

There was more entertainment at St. Mary’s Stadium, where Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino returned for the first time since leaving Southampton last summer.

Southampton twice took the lead through Graziano Pelle, but goals from Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli kept Spurs a point above their opponents.