The Manchester United bus left the South Coast bound for home just two points behind leaders Chelsea after a storming second half performance blew away the home side in rain-swept Portsmouth. Four goals, including a hat-trick from Wayne Rooney, and Ryan Giggs’ 100th Premier League strike were enough to hand United all three points.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men arrived in pursuit of another maximum haul to maintain their challenge of Chelsea at the head of the Premier League. And controversy, which almost inevitably follows the team, reared its head once again with three penalties awarded by referee Mike Dean. Wayne Rooney dispatched two for United, while Portsmouth’s Kevin Prince Boateng scored for Avram Grant’s side, as the visitors reprised Ferguson’s last confrontation with the new Pompey manager.
United, once again without Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar and Jonny Evans, rode out Portsmouth’s early fire to take the honors. It must have been pleasant viewing for Sir Alex, forced to sit in the stands for comments made about Alan Wiley in September.
Ferguson’s forwards – Rooney, Giggs and the increasingly impressive Antonio Valencia – in particular stole the show. The mesmerising interchange and dynamic play more reminiscent of United in earlier seasons than this.
It was perhaps fitting then that the reds’ opening goal was fashioned by Valencia and Rooney’s lightening quick break. It was far too good for former-Manchester City midfielder Michael Brown who crudely hacked down United’s striker. Grant’s post-match protests were as false as Portsmouth’s stay in the Premier League is precarious.
Pompey restored parity within minutes though and this time Ferguson had genuine cause for complaint. Stand-in ‘keeper Tomasz Kuszczak punched away Jamie O’Hara’s free-kick but – apparently on the advice of his assistant – Dean point once again to the spot. Nemanja Vidic punished for shirt pulling so minor it could barely have tickled Portsmouth’s Frédéric Piquionne.
Sir Alex, in the stands, would surely have risked a further touchline ban had the Scot been allowed within 50 yards of the official.
“The linesman has put the referee under terrible pressure and he has to listen to the linesman who is 50 yards away,” Ferguson said post-match.
“You see these things every weekend in the penalty box. If you are saying everyone who wrestles at a corner or tugs at a jersey concedes a penalty kick then that’s fine. But it doesn’t happen that way and this linesman has changed the whole course of normal decision making.
“So it was a very disappointing result for us to get a penalty against us in that situation. Half-time came at a good time for us and the important thing was to keep our discipline and composure and play our football.”
Indeed, Portsmouth buoyed by the goal, briefly threatened to make a real fist of the tie. But United’s second half response – led by the wonderful Giggs – was far too robust for Grant’s side.
The visitor’s second, fashioned by the Welshman and converted by Rooney, came just moments after the restart. Giggs’ perfectly weighted through-ball, converted in a single motion by Rooney, was the epitome of the winger’s class on the eve of his 36th birthday.
And it was Giggs’ persistence in robbing Piquionne in the Portsmouth area that led to Dean awarding United’s second penalty. Giggs, hacked down by the Frenchman, offered Rooney the chance to convert United’s third and his personal hat-trick.
But Giggs, star of the show, rightly took the plaudits with a stunning fourth to round off United’s victory. Patrice Evra, fouled on the edge of the Portsmouth area, stepped aside – as did Rooney – for the red legend to fire the set piece low to Asmir Begovic’s right.
Just wonderful from the birthday boy.
“Ryan Giggs is an exceptional player. A rarity. He will play for two years yet,” said Ferguson in praise of the Welshman.
“Happy Birthday. He’s had it 36 times in his life, wait until he gets to 67. I think he’ll be retired by then.
“So many things were happening (in the match). It is a great result for us and some of the football was good. In the second half we kept our discipline and the ball very well and deserved the win in the end.”
And while Rooney and Giggs rightly take the praise, Ferguson can also be happy with the performances of Valencia – bright, direct and skillful on the right-wing – and Kuszczak in goal who made three top-class saves.
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