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Man City lose after defensive howlers

Bale brace boosts Tottenham Hotspur

Manchester City’s Premier League title defence fell apart at the seams in a 3-1 defeat at Southampton yesterday evening when goalkeeper Joe Hart committed a howler and Gareth Barry scored a bizarre own goal.

Manchester United can increase their lead over City at the top to 12 points with 12 games left if they win at home to Everton today after coach Mauricio Pochettino sealed his first win for 15th-placed Southampton.

First Barry lost the ball in midfield after seven minutes and Jason Puncheon stormed forward before coolly finishing off a rebound after Hart’s sprawling stop.

Hart, who saved a Ronaldinho penalty during an excellent display for England in a friendly against Brazil on Wednesday, then inexplicably let a Rickie Lambert shot go through his legs and Steven Davis slid the ball in midway through the first period.

Edin Dzeko replied for City after a quick counter attack but just after the break, a weak cross came in and Barry decided to pass the ball back to Hart only to send it into the corner of the net with the keeper beaten.

Earlier, the unstoppable Gareth Bale scored twice in Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 victory over Newcastle while rivals Chelsea and Arsenal also won to add spice to the race for the Champions League spots.

Chelsea stayed third in the standings, a point ahead of Spurs, after a 4-1 home success over third-bottom Wigan while 10-man Arsenal lost Jack Wilshere to injury but still beat Sunderland 1-0 away thanks to Santi Cazorla’s strike.

Basement side QPR suffered a big blow in a 4-1 defeat at Swansea City but fourth-bottom Reading failed to increase the six-point gap with a 2-1 loss at Stoke City.

Spurs’ Wales midfielder Bale netted his fourth and fifth goals in four games for club and country to again almost single-handedly inspire the north Londoners in the fourth and final Champions League qualifying spot.

“Newcastle were on a good run of form, so it was always going to be a hard game,” Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas said.

“We stepped it up in the second half and showed team spirit to get three points. Both sides had chances. We showed more determination in the second half and took control.”

Bale struck first with a free-kick after five minutes with James Perch failing to jump in the visitors’ wall before Lewis Holtby wasted three chances to increase the lead.

Newcastle’s French forward Yoan Gouffran then grabbed his first Premier League goal since signing last month when his effort was deflected in midway through the first half but he later needed oxygen for a shin injury and was substituted.

Spurs lost their way slightly and introduced Emmanuel Adebayor with the Togo striker only having returned from the Africa Cup on Friday.

The home side’s pressure eventually paid off against a side who had won their last two games when Bale ran through and finished with aplomb after 78 minutes before missing an easy chance for a hat-trick in stoppage time.

Arsenal duo Wilshere and Theo Walcott, instrumental in England’s 2-1 friendly win over Brazil on Wednesday, again combined to set up Cazorla for the 35th-minute winner at Sunderland.

The Londoners were utterly dominant in the first half but the situation changed after the break with midfielder Wilshere limping off and defender Carl Jenkinson being sent off for two bookings after 62 minutes.

Arsene Wenger’s side held on in the face of late pressure but Rafael Benitez’s Chelsea avoided any home nerves against plucky Wigan.

Ramires finished off in style after a good pass by Fernando Torres for the 23rd-minute opener and Eden Hazard doubled the lead 11 minutes into the second half.

Shaun Maloney pulled one back after 58 minutes but England’s midweek goal hero Frank Lampard again underlined why most Chelsea supporters want him to be offered another contract when he made it 3-1. Marko Marin added a fourth in injury time.

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