New Delhi: Goals in the first and last 10 minutes were enough for Manchester United to ease past Portsmouth at Old Trafford and return to the top of the Premier League.
The Red Devils made a confident start and were ahead on nine minutes when Wayne Rooney tapped home Ryan Giggs’ cross. Giggs should have made it two before half-time, but missed the target from close-range after good work from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The home side wasted more opportunities after the break, and there was tension for a short spell as Pompey began to threaten more as an attacking force. But the game was eventually put to bed eight minutes from time when substitute Michael Carrick drilled home Paul Scholes’ exquisite pass.
As a result, United move three points clear of Liverpool and still have a game in hand over their title rivals. Portsmouth still need another win to be assured of survival.
United made nine changes from the under-strength side that lost to Everton in an FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out at the weekend. Anderson and Nemanja Vidic were the only survivors from that Wembley fixture, while the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez were on the substitutes’ bench.
Portsmouth made two changes from their Premier League victory over Bolton Wanderers as Nadir Belhadj and Richard Hughes replaced injury victims Younes Kaboul and Niko Kranjcar.
After a lively start, the opening goal within the opening ten minutes put the Red Devils in control of the match. Anderson, who was full of energy throughout, did well to find space and pick out Giggs on the left. The Welshman’s accurate delivery was meat and drink to Rooney, who slotted past Portsmouth goalkeeper David James.
Giggs was involved in the thick of the action and was twice denied by James, before he missed a glorious opportunity when he diverted Ronaldo’s cross wide after the Portuguese winger seized on an error from Sol Campbell.
Prior to the break, Darren Fletcher should have done better but he dragged a shot wide of the far post, while John O’Shea had a header cleared off the line by Belhadj, whose side were having next to no effect going forward.
After the interval, the visitors did begin to have more of a say – Peter Crouch volleying wide their best opening after Jermaine Pennant squared the ball from a promising position, while Glen Johnson’s cross-shot forced a strong save from home keeper Edwin van der Sar.
That spell did cause a few anxious moments with the lead at just one, but overall United were the better side and deserved their second goal when it arrived through Carrick shortly after he had replaced Anderson.
Scholes, making his 600th overall appearance for the club, guided through a perfect pass which allowed the former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder to lash his shot past James and into the bottom corner to seal the three points.
The main downside for United was the fact they had to use three right-backs over the course of the 90 minutes after Gary Neville and O’Shea both limped off with injuries, meaning Rafael da Silva finished the match in the problematic position.
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