Friday, January 25, 2008

Ronaldo hat-trick as toon fall apart

Manchester United moved back to the top of the Premier League with a 6-0 thrashing of crisis-club Newcastle at Old Trafford.
After going in at half-time without tangible reward for 45 minutes full of chances, the home side turned in a staggeringly clinical performance after the break to heap further woe on the rudderless Toon, who saw Alan Smith sent off late on for foul and abusive language.

Cristiano Ronaldo's first hat-trick for United, two Carlos Tevez strikes and Rio Ferdinand's sweet volley saw Newcastle torn, still reeling from Harry Redknapp's rejection, torn apart.

It was not hard to recognise the star man in a superb team-performance. After 14 times scoring twice in a match, Ronaldo finally got a United hat-trick as he brought up his 20th, 21st and 22nd goals of a stunning season.

United started with real intent and Wayne Rooney had a quartet of fine chances to open the scoring within the first 15 minutes.

Just three minutes in, he was put through on goal after Alan Smith got caught in possession in midfield. Rooney - scorer of a stunning volley against Newcastle two seasons ago - looked as though he was thinking about a spectacular chip as he sprinted into the final third; instead, he opted for power - and blasted his effort high and wide.

The England striker had a second chance just moments later after being picked out by a fine inside pass from Ronaldo as United mounted a swift break. This time, Rooney opted for more control, only to find Shay Given with a low shot from the edge of the box.

On 14 minutes, he had a shot deflected out for a corner after cutting in from the left wing before bringing a decent save out of Given with a first-time volley from the edge of the box after being picked out by an exquisite lofted pass from Michael Carrick.

In between all those chances, James Milner could have given Newcastle a shock lead, only for his shot to be blocked by Rio Ferdinand after John O'Shea's poor defensive clearance landed at his feet 14 yards out.

In general, though, it was United doing all the pressing, with O'Shea having a header cleared from under the crossbar after a flap from Given just before two very good penalty shouts in quick succession were turned down by referee Rob Styles as Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs appeared to be tripped by Steven Taylor and Smith.

Rooney wasted a fourth fine chance on 36 minutes, drifting a Eric Cantona-esque chip just wide after turning a baffled Claudio Cacapa inside out, and the home side further cranked up the pressure as half-time approached, with Ronaldo bringing a full-length save out of Given before heading the subsequent corner narrowly wide of the far post.

But despite all United's chances, Newcastle will have gone in at the break most aggrieved, with Michael Owen having a legitimate effort ruled out for off-side as he sprinted on to Milner's through-ball and fired past Edwin van der Sar.

As in the first half, United roared out of the blocks, and it took two stunning goal-line clearances from Taylor - first from Carlos Tevez, before getting to his feet to prod Giggs' follow-up shot over the bar - to keep the score level.

But just a couple of minutes later, United finally had the reward their dominance and pressure deserved. Smith was harshly adjudged to have clipped the heels of Ronaldo as he tried to get a shot away, handing United a free-kick in an ominous position - which Ronaldo got up to fire under the wall and past Given.

With the pressure lifted, it did not take long for United to go for the jugular - and before the hour, they had a second. Given was needlessly given the ball by recalled full-back Jose Enrique, the goalkeeper's attempted clearance hitting Cacapa and falling to Giggs. He rolled the ball across the face of goal, where Tevez fired home.

Charles N'Zogbia had a good curling shot pawed away by van der Sar, Owen scuffing the follow-up effort, on the hour, but United continued to carve out chance after chance, Rooney wasting another fine opening when he headed Rio Ferdinand's cross wide.

It came as no surprise when Ronaldo got a third, brilliantly controlling Tevez's pass into the penalty area before firing past Given with 19 minutes remaining.

In truth, Newcastle fell apart in the final stages; the score only being kept down to three thanks to a stunning goal-line block from Enrique, another save by Given from Rooney and referee Styles' refusal to award a stonewall penalty when Carr pushed Ferdinand as they challenged for a high ball.

Ferdinand was not to be denied, however; after 15 minutes of almost constant pressure and chances, the defender was picked out at the back post by Rooney's astute chip, and Ferdinand crashed a sweet volley past Given at the near post.

There was more drama in injury time, Tevez firing a volley off the underside of the bar and down on to the line. The referee's assistant gave the goal, although replays suggested it was a tight decision - prompting Smith's foul-mouthed rant that saw him see red.