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United stretch lead as Van der Sar sets record

Manchester United went five points clear at the top of the English Premier League with a 1-0 win over Everton at Old Trafford here Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s first-half penalty secured victory in a match where United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar set a new English league record for most minutes without conceding a goal.

The 38-year-old Dutchman, who has now not conceded a goal in domestic league action to 1,121 minutes – more than 18-and-a-half hours – broke the record 17 minutes from time on his way to a 12th straight clean sheet.

Victory also piled the pressure on English, European and world champions United’s nearest domestic pursuers, Chelsea and Liverpool, who meet at Anfield on Sunday.

Though United never scaled the attacking heights they reached in Tuesday’s 5-0 demolition of West Browmich Albion, they comfortably held Everton at bay and had little trouble ending the visitors’ run of nine matches without defeat.

In pursuit of the record, van der Sar suffered few, if any, anxious moments during a one-sided first half, with the champions dominating possession throughout and regularly forcing Tim Howard into action.

First to test the United goalkeeper was Park Ji-Sung, his teasing right wing cross after seven minutes requiring Howard to scramble across the six yard box and push the ball away to safety as Ronaldo loomed large.

Next up was the lively Carlos Tevez, who thought he had scored in the 12th minutes but, somehow, former United keeper Howard managed to stick out an arm after the Argentinean forward had instinctively got a shot away from inside the penalty area.

World Player of the Year Ronaldo then toe-poked an effort against the post, and forced a routine parry from Howard with another long range drive.

It seemed Everton had weathered the storm and the visitors began to pass the ball nicely, Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines particularly catching the eye as they caused Gary Neville no end of trouble.

Frustratingly for David Moyes, Everton’s manager, there was no real cutting edge but they looked certain to head into the break on level terms until an aberration from Mikel Arteta undid alll their hard work.

When Michael Carrick skipped forward, he appeared to be heading down a blind alley but, for some reason, Arteta stuck out his trailing leg, clipped the midfielder and referee Mark Halsey was left with option but to point to the penalty spot.

It brought back memories of the teams’ Old Trafford meeting in December 2007 – Pienaar tripped Ryan Giggs that afternoon – and as was the case then, Ronaldo ensured Everton suffered maximum punishment by beating Howard from 12 yards.

And the game could have been ended as a contest had Halsey awarded another penalty when Carrick tumbled over Joleon Lescott’s outstretched leg.

Again, however, Halsey made the correct decision, waving away United claims.

Other than the odd free-kick from Arteta, which van der Sar comfortably gathered, Everton never looked like scoring let alone bringing their search for a first win on this ground since August 1992 to a successful conclusion.

Goalmouth action was scarce in the dying moments – the closest anyone came to scoring was when Arteta had a drive blocked by Carrick – but Everton had claims for a penalty of their own when Lescott seemed to be wrestled to the floor by Rio Ferdinand.

But it was not to be and van der Sar etched his name in the record books with the minimum of fuss.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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