Sunderland's Ki Sung-Yueng (R) challenged by Everton's Sylvain Distin during their English Premier League soccer match at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland, northern England April 12, 2014. Photo by Nigel Roddis, Reuters.
LONDON - Champions League football beckoned on the horizon for Everton on Saturday after a 1-0 victory over bottom club Sunderland hoisted them above Arsenal into fourth place in the Premier League.
An own goal by Wes Brown gave Everton a club record seventh consecutive Premier League win to put them two points above Arsenal with five games remaining.
In an increasingly desperate relegation fight at the other end of the table three clubs in danger of the drop all won with Fulham, Cardiff City and Crystal Palace all collecting precious points while threatened West Bromwich Albion drew 3-3 with Tottenham Hotspur after leading 3-0.
The only goal at the Stadium of Light came after 75 minutes when Sunderland defender Brown chested a cross into his own net, settling a scrappy game.
Everton have 66 points, two more than Arsenal who were dragged into a penalty shoot-out against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, eventually prevailing.
"It is really satisfying because we knew it was going to be a difficult game," Everton boss Roberto Martinez, trying to lead Everton to a top-four finish and a crack at the Champions League for the first time since 2005, said.
"It was very tense and very cagey because of the meaning it had at this stage of the season.
"To get a win was immense and it just shows what we have got in the dressing room."
Before the match Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said his team "needed a miracle" to avoid the drop and their task looks even harder now he now needs an even bigger one as Sunderland's defeat left them four points adrift at the bottom.
Second-from-bottom Cardiff won 1-0 at Southampton with defender Juan Cala scoring after 65 minutes and Fulham, who are 18th, beat fourth-from-bottom Norwich City 1-0 at Craven Cottage.
Fulham's winner came from Hugo Rodallega who had not scored in the league until last week's win at Aston Villa and has now grabbed two in two games as Fulham eye an unlikely escape.
Crystal Palace eased their relegation fears with a 1-0 home win over Aston Villa thanks to Jason Puncheon's 76th minute winner but West Brom, who started the day 16th, were left to rue a missed opportunity against Spurs after leading 2-0 after four minutes and 3-0 after 31.
Palace's victory saw them climb to 37 points and virtual safety while West Brom stayed in 16th place, three points clear of the relegation zone.
The bottom four positions are occupied by Norwich who have 32 points, followed by Fulham (30), Cardiff (29) and Sunderland(25). Sunderland have two games in hand on the teams above them but look to be slipping out of the top flight.
WEST BROM WOBBLE
Fulham manager Felix Magath admitted that Norwich, playing under former youth team coach Neil Adams for the first time following Chris Hughton's sacking, were the better team, but was delighted with the three points.
"I am happy with the win but today I am not so satisfied. We have to respect Norwich were the better team but we had a very good goalkeeper who saved us from defeat," he told the BBC.
West Brom manager Pepe Mel was far from pleased after watching his side wobble against Spurs
His side were 2-0 ahead inside four minutes with goals from Morgan Amalfitano in the first minute and Chris Brunt three minutes later. Emmanuel Adebayaor then missed a penalty for Spurs before Stephane Sessegnon seemed to have wrapped up the points for the Baggies, scoring after a great solo run.
The Spurs fightback began when Jonas Olsson put through his own net two minutes later before a 75th minute header from Harry Kane and a goal in the 90th minute from Christian Eriksen saved a point from Spurs.
Mel told the BBC afterwards: "We did start very well, we had a good first half but the result has gone against us.
"The problem is we are so keen to win the points. We need to play the same way regardless of being 3-0 up or if 0-0. This is very difficult for me, the players are very down but we have five games to come. Every point is very important."
The top three sides Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City are all in action on Sunday with Liverpool playing Manchester City at Anfield and Chelsea going to Swansea City.
All of Saturday's matches kicked off at 1507 local time (1407GMT) to commemorate the Hillsborough disaster 25 years ago this weekend when 96 Liverpool fans died at their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest in Sheffield.
That match was abandoned after six minutes and the seven-minute delay on Saturday marked that duration and also included a minute's silence around the grounds. (Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Tony Goodson and Martyn Herman)