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United restore Premier League lead


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LONDON, England -- Manchester United shrugged off the Rio Ferdinand saga to return to the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 win at Tottenham.

England defender Ferdinand, who on Friday received an eight-month ban for missing a drugs test, was in the team as John O'Shea and Ruud van Nistelrooy struck for United in the first half.

Southampton climbed up to fourth place with an emphatic 3-0 defeat of south coast neighbors Portsmouth.

United are one point ahead of Chelsea and Arsenal, with the Saints 13 points further back.

Defender O'Shea opened the scoring at White Hart Lane after just 16 minutes when he toed a low corner into the net, and van Nistelrooy struck his 13th league goal of the season seven minutes later with a deflected shot after a slick midfield move.

Gustavo Poyet poked home Stephane Dalmat's cross on 63 minutes as United were caught on the break, but the champions held out as Spurs applied the pressure too late.

United coach Sir Alex Ferguson opted to include Ferdinand, who is not due to start his ban until January 12, and indicated he would continue to pick him for as long as possible.

"I think it was probably the best thing to play him and get the thing out of his mind and concentrate on playing the game," said Ferguson.

"I think he's acquitted himself very well given the circumstances. He merits his position in the team because of his performance and strangely enough since it's all happened he's been better and better.

"He and Mikael Silvestre have formed a fantastic partnership, it gives us a great backbone so why should I change it?"

Goals from Jason Dodd, Marion Pahars and James Beattie doomed Portsmouth to their fourth defeat in five outings.

"I don't care about Christmas, we are going to train on Christmas Day," said Portsmouth coach Harry Redknapp.

"I won't even eat my Christmas dinner. I'm going to be the most miserable person you've ever seen."

Southampton took the lead in extraordinary fashion on 34 minutes when Jason Dodd's inswinging corner arched over Pompey's Dutch goalkeeper Harald Wapenaar, rebounded off the crossbar and struck the head of defender Sebastien Schemmel.

Pompey left themselves exposed to a quick counter-attack in their pursuit of an equalizer and on 67 minutes the Saints doubled their advantage thanks to injury-plagued Pahars' first goal in 15 months.

He ghosted between two Pompey defenders before unleashing a 20-meter curling strike that left Wapenaar helpless.

On 89 minutes Beattie was inches wide with a curling freekick from the left edge of the box but with virtually the last touch of the match he scored with an athletic diving header.


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