Manchester United continued in rich goalscoring form with an Old Trafford rout of Portsmouth.The result, hardly unexpected, piles pressure on Chelsea to beat Arsenal at Stamford Bridge tomorrow with United now a point clear. Having scored 15 goals in the past fortnight, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men now have significant momentum in the Premier League title race.
Fixtures don’t come any easier than this. Portsmouth, doomed to relegation and probable financial meltdown, proved easy pickings for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. Indeed, while the South Coast club fought valiantly, a home win was never in doubt once Wayne Rooney opened the scoring five minutes before half time.
Further – deflected – goals from Nani and Michael Carrick, as well as a Dimitar Berbatov strike and an own goal wrapped up a comfortable win for Ferguson’s men. All five goals came in the space of 30 minutes either side of half time.
Sir Alex Ferguson restored Dimitar Berbatov to the starting line-up, after the £30 million Bulgarian striker lay in wait on the bench during United’s recent victories over Manchester City and Arsenal. The former-Tottenham Hotspur man, involved in the thick of the action, contributed fully as United thumped the Premier League’s basement side.
Yet Avram Grant’s side could have score twice before United’s opener. First, Edwin van der Sar turned away Anthony Vanden Borre’s strike and then the impressive Johnny Evans turned away Nadir Belhadj shot from distance.
The Northern Irishman excelled in the absence of new England captain Rio Ferdinand and his partner in physio Nemanja Vidic, who again ruled himself out of today’s game.
Fortunately for the home side Carrick’s ability to keep the ball moving proved the pivotal influence on the match as United’s patience wore down The Israeli’s visitors.
Rooney headed in Darren Fletcher’s right-wing cross to open the scoring before half-time as the floodgates opened. In-form Nani then added a second, as Vanden Borre turned in the Portuguese’s cross minutes later. Carrick’s 25-yard left-footer was deflected in off the crossbar by Richard Hughes to beat the returning David James. And Marc Wilson lashed Patrice Evra’s centre into the net for United’s fifth.
The best strike of the match, however, came on the hour as Berbatov swiveled on the edge of the area to lash home. Earlier the striker had missed an open goal from just yards out. Such are his mercurial talents.
“It took us a while to get the first goal, but we had a lot of pressure, a lot of possession and we were patient enough,” Ferguson told MUTV.
“I think that’s important, especially when teams come and sit there, like they did today.
“They were there to make it difficult and eventually we got the goal just before half time. We were fortunate with the second one, but that was important. It opened the game for us and in the second half we had a good peformance.”
Ferguson praised Berbatov’s performance, although it is likely the Bulgarian will drop to the bench for United’s trip to Aston Villa in midweek.
“It was a magnificent goal, absolutely brilliant,” said the Old Trafford boss.
“The confidence it brought to his game after that was brilliant. It was good to take him off, because he got the applause from the crowd and it was terrific. He’s had a good performance today.”
So on to Birmingham this coming Wednesday for a crucial match in the Premier League run-in. With the goal difference suitably boosted, United will travel to the second city on the title summit should Chelsea failed to beat the Gunners in tomorrow’s tea-time fixture.
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.
Manchester United visit Portsmouth this weekend seeking to build on the win over Everton last Saturday. Sir Alex Ferguson, who will sit in the stands for the match following his FA-inspired touch-line ban, will face new Pompey manager Avram Grant. But Ferguson may have to do without a half-dozen key players as his injury list refuses to clear up.
Rated doubtful for the match are Dimitar Berbatov and Edwin van der Sar with knee complaints, Jonny Evans and John O’Shea who have a troublesome thighs, Fabio da Silva with a stiff groin and Rio Ferdinand who is out, as usual, with a sore back. Long term absentee Owen Hargreaves is unlikely to play until this side of Christmas.
The list means that Ferguson is likely to pair Nemanja Vidic and Wes Brown in central defence, whom the Scot was keen to praise this week.
“I think most people recognise that [Brown is] a natural defender, and you’ve got to also pay tribute to the lad that he keeps coming back from the serious injuries he’s had over his career,” Ferguson said at his Friday press conference.
“He’s had two cruciates, a broken ankle, calf injuries … last season he had a very staggered season in terms of interruptions into his consistency.
“But the previous season he was our most consistent defender, in the year when we won the cup [Champions League] in Moscow.
“Now he’s fit again and is looking fantastic. He gets better all the time.
“Players always need a run of games to get the consistency in the timing and tempo of their game correct. We’re seeing that at the moment, so long may it continue.”
Patrice Evra, assured of a place at left-back, will start but the manager must choose between Rafael da Silva and Gary Neville on the right side of defence. The Brazilian teenager looked uncertain at left-back against Besiktas in midweek but is likely to play as Ferguson seeks to attack a belleagered Portsmouth defence that is without England goalkeeper David James.
Meanwhile, should van der Sar fail to recover Ferguson could stand by Ben Foster in the United goal. The ‘keeper, beaten by a deflected effort on Wednesday night, could do with a confidence boost after a tough few months.
Portsmouth, who overlooked Sir Alex’ son Darren for the vacant manager’s post this week, lie bottom of the Premier League after a shocking series of results. The club’s fate is hardly suprising given the South coast outfit’s player sales over the past year.
In fact, while sacking Hart was almost inevitable, it was the very definition of papering over the cracks. That United will face a Portsmouth side almost unrecognisable from that which took to the field under Harry Redknapp’s stewardship is far more instructive.
The club’s fate now lies in Avram Grant’s hands. Yet in the former Chelsea manager, Portsmouth has chosen not only the least charismatic coach in the Premier League but a man who has achieved close to nothing in a career defined by mediocrity. The appointment came as little surprise though. Indeed, Paul Hart’s fate was surely sealed the millisecond Portsmouth push Grant back through Fratton Park’s doors. The hand, no doubt, of Grant’s good friend Pini Zahavi.
Yet Ferguson was quick to defend Grant, whom he beat to the 2008 Champions League.
“Avram is a football man and there is no doubt he will be glad to get back into the game,” Ferguson said this week.
“He has a task on his hands because his team are bottom of the league. But hopefully he can manage it. Portsmouth have some very good players. I have looked at their videos and they may be in a false position.
“But being bottom of the league does create a reaction from owners and management of a club.”
“It doesn’t matter which club it is, when you have a change of ownership there will be a certain amount of disruption. You get new policies coming in, or there might be a new financial outlook. You can see how it can have an effect on the pitch.
“Owners of a club don’t like to see their team at the bottom of the league. That is the danger position.
“If you are third or fourth bottom you think everything will be OK but when you see your team going bottom it creates a dread about where they are going to be next season.”
Kind words. Bu three points on Saturday and United will contribute heavily to Portsmouth inevitable relegation. The club, which in 2008 won the FA Cup under Redknapp’s stewardship, overspent heavily on meagre revenues in recent seasons and is paying the price.
Not the first club to ‘chase the dream’ and come out the wrong side of a debt mountain.