London:Leader Liverpool dropped two valuable points at lowly Stoke, stumbling to a 0-0 draw a day after manager Rafa Benitez angrily dismissed Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson's assertion that the Reds' title bid will falter due to nerves.
Captain Steven Gerrard hit the crossbar and the post in the last six minutes on Saturday as Stoke held the 18-time champions for a second time this season, raising further doubts about their ability to win a first English title since 1990.
Both United and Chelsea have won at Stoke this season and last season's top two will be looking to take advantage of the slip-up when they meet on Sunday.
A victory will take second-place Chelsea within a point of the Premier League leaders, while the defending champions would overtake Liverpool by winning the Old Trafford clash and their two games in hand.
Aston Villa moved into third with a 2-1 win over local rival West Bromwich Albion.
Late goals enabled fifth-place Arsenal to stay in sight of the Champions League places with a 1-0 victory over Bolton and Sunderland to earn at 1-1 draw at local rival Middlesbrough.
Everton swept aside Hull 2-0 by and Newcastle drew 2-2 with West Ham.
Frozen pitches forced the postponement of two top flight matches - Portsmouth-Manchester City and Fulham-Blackburn -while much of the lower-league program was wiped out.
Benitez's astonishing attack on Ferguson came after the Scot said Liverpool would "make mistakes ... and get punished" in the second half of the season.
And Stoke, which climbed out of the relegation zone with the point, could have been ahead in the 12th when Rory Delap, who began the attack with one of his long throw-ins, hit the crossbar from six meters (yards) and Richard Cresswell was unable to react to the rebound.
Liverpool struggled to break down Stoke for much of the game. A rare shot came in the 22nd when Dirk Kuyt was denied by Thomas Sorensen at the near post.
"We are not happy," Benitez said. "I think it was a difficult game that we couldn't control."
Aston Villa leapfrogged United by beating West Brom after a costly blunder by goalkeeper Scott Carson.
Villa midfielder Steve Sidwell had two headers cleared off the line before the ball eventually fell to Gareth Barry, who whipped in a cross for Curtis Davies to head in his first goal of the season.
Despite being jeered all afternoon, Davies barely celebrated the goal against his former side.
"I know they hate me but I've got no intention of letting them hate me even more," the English defender said.
Villa looked more dangerous after gaining the advantage and the error by Carson added another goal before the break.
Barry released Gabriel Agbonlahor down the left and the forward cut into the penalty area unchallenged despite five West Brom players in proximity and not a single attacking man in support.
From a narrow angle, the England striker struck the ball across the goalmouth, but it was going wide until Carson managed to deflect it under his left arm and over the line.
The Baggies pulled one back after the break when substitute Roman Bednar headed down to James Morrison and the Scotland midfielder turned Martin Laursen before sending a shot past Brad Friedel, helped by a slight deflection off Davies.
"It was a really tough game," Villa manager Martin O'Neill said. "But I still thought in spells we were exhilarating at times. Ashley Young was terrific and great credit to Gabby for playing the whole game when feeling pretty poorly."
West Brom had two penalty claims dismissed in stoppage time when Bednar and Robert Koren tumbled.
Arsenal left it late to overcome a stubborn Bolton side with Nicklas Bendtner latching on to Robin van Persie's cross and sliding the ball in at the far post with six minutes remaining.
Arsene Wenger's side had looked set for another frustrating day as the Trotters' resilience combined with the home side's lack of width and penetration had prevented Arsenal from creating more than a handful of half chances until the visitors tired in the last 25 minutes.
"We are already swimming enough against the stream not to drop points against Bolton," Wenger said of Arsenal slipping away from the leaders. "We were solid defensively and now we have won 1-0 three times, which is a good basis."
Everton helped to cement a top-six place by completing its fifth game without a defeat or conceding a goal.
Marouane Fellaini fired Everton ahead in the 18th despite the Belgium midfielder meeting a cross from Leighton Baines with a header from what appeared to be an offside position.
But there was no disputing Mikel Arteta's stunning 30-meter free kick, which found the net on the stroke of half time.
Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones turned in David Healy's cross from close range in the 82nd to cancel out the powerful shot from Afonso Alves that put Middlesbrough ahead at the end of the first half.
Andy Carroll's 78th-minute header salvaged a point for Newcastle after West Ham strikers Craig Bellamy and Carlton Cole had canceled out Michael Owen's early strike for the Magpies.