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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Manchester United beats Portsmouth 3-1

Manchester United FC made sure it was third time unlucky for rivals Portsmouth, who were looking for a hat-trick of home Premiership victories against the Reds, by giving them a master class in first-half finishing.

Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo scored two fine goals after Ruud van Nistelrooy headed in the rebound from Ryan Giggs' shot as memories of previous 1-0 and 2-0 defeats at Fratton Park were dismissed by the high-flyers.

Harry Redknapp may not yet be running of patience but Portsmouth squad is certainly beginning to run out of time with only 12 games left to somehow hang on to their Premiership status. Next up in a couple of weeks' time is the small matter of a visit to Chelsea.

Redknapp, nevertheless, tried as ever to put on a brave face after another soul-searching defeat, with comments such as "we must go on a run" and "it's all still to play for". Yet you get the distinct impression that he is starting to clutch at straws. Of all the worrying statistics surrounding Portsmouth, none is more telling than the fact that they have just once scored more than a single goal in any League game this season - and that was against Sunderland. They may have paid a record £4.1m for Benjani Mwaruwari but so far the Zimbabwe international striker is firing blanks.

Everything, as they say, goes in threes and Portsmouth were looking for a third successive home win over United, who had triumphed only once in the top flight at Fratton Park in 47 years. Bogey ground? Not any longer. Three certainly figured - for the number of times Dean Kiely had to pick the ball out of his net, all in the first half. Only in an opening burst and a pulsating last 15 minutes did Pompey spark into life, their late rally resulting in Matthew Taylor's goal.

On the positive side, the crowd never stopped giving them rousing support while Lomana LuaLua's pace and trickery were a constant threat. Of Portsmouth's new signings only Pedro Mendes, one of four former Tottenham players in their 16-man squad, looked the part and would have been a contender for man of the match but for a scintillating display from United's Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese scored two goals and kissed the top of the bar after Ruud van Nistelrooy had notched his 19th Premiership goal of the season, nodding the ball over the line after Ryan Giggs had struck the woodwork.

"When we stayed up last time we took 21 points from the last 10 games and we need to do something similar," Redknapp noticed. "Then, of course, we had Yakubu and we need someone like him to start scoring goals. I had to take some chances in January and brought seven players in. It's not easy to hit the ground running but if I'd sat back and done nothing we'd never have survived anyway."

Van Nistelrooy, United's captain for the day, was unhappy about his team's second-half performance but is just two goals away from joining a select band of United legends who have scored 150 for the club. In all probability United will not catch Chelsea, despite closing the gap to 12 points, but second place and at least one domestic cup now look a fair bet. Not a bad return.

Goals: Van Nistelrooy 18 (0-1); Ronaldo 38 (0-2); Ronaldo 45 (0-3); Taylor 87 (1-3).

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Kiely; Pamarot, O'Brien, Primus, Taylor; O'Neil, Davis (Griffin 55), Pedro Mendes, D'Alessandro (Routledge 45); Mwaruwari, LuaLua. Substitutes not used: Ashdown, Karadas, Hughes.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar (Howard 45); Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Silvestre; Ronaldo, Fletcher, Giggs (Smith 45), Park; Rooney (Saha 82), Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Evra, Richardson.


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