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Ronaldo magic takes United to verge of glory

SoccerNews in English Premier League 3 May 2008


A Cristiano Ronaldo double helped Manchester United coast to a 4-1 win over West Ham that leaves them on the brink of retaining the Premier League title.

The only blot on an otherwise perfect afternoon for Sir Alex Ferguson's side was the red card Nani received for head-butting West Ham captain Lucas Neill, which means the Portuguese winger will miss the final match of the season at Wigan, when United will expect to wrap up their 17th English title.

Despite booking their place in the Champions League final at Barcelona's expense four days earlier, United were seeking their first league win in three games after a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea last Saturday and a 1-1 draw at Blackburn.

Yet Ferguson had insisted on the eve of the game that his side were in the driving seat to win his 10th Premier League title.

He felt Tuesday's 1-0 aggregate win over Barcelona would prove a turning point for his team and was the perfect response after losing at Stamford Bridge just days earlier.

With Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic still out injured, the United manager opted to stick with the 11 who had disposed of Barcelona four days earlier.

That meant Anderson, Ryan Giggs, John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher had to be content with a place on the bench as United's final home game of the season turned into a carnival occasion.

Any fears that their Champions League exploits might have left the home side drained were extinguished as early as the fourth minute by Ronaldo.

A fatal slip by West Ham's Australian captain Neill allowed United's leading scorer free to charge into the penalty area and score from 12 yards with the aid of a deflection off George McCartney.

Patrice Evra denied Bobby Zamora an equaliser with a clearance off the line three minutes later but West Ham's defending was so poor it was no surprise when United went further ahead in the 24th minute.

It was all too easy for Ferguson's side as Ronaldo, unmarked in the six-yard area, used his thigh to direct Owen Hargreaves's cross over the line after James Tomkins had failed to cut out the England international's ball into the area.

West Ham have been a thorn in United's side in recent years, and were vying for a fourth successive victory over the defending champions.

There was never any prospect of that after Tevez smashed home the goal of the game — a dipping strike from 30 yards — in the 26th minute.

Dean Ashton did give the visiting fans something to cheer about when the striker beat Edwin van der Sar with an impressive overhead kick.

Seven minutes later, West Ham were given a potential lifeline when Nani was shown a straight red card for head-butting Neill after what appeared to be a sly pinch by the Australian defender.

Referee Mike Riley booked Neill for his part in the incident and the game threatened to explode moments later when McCartney was cautioned for hauling down Ronaldo, an incident which left Ferguson raging at the fourth official Mike Dean.

But despite being forced to play for almost an hour with ten men, United looked superior throughout and they went 4-1 ahead when England midfielder Michael Carrick scored just before the hour mark with the aid of a heavy deflection off Neill.

On a hot day, United tired towards the end but could still have made it five, Scotland midfielder Darren Fletcher striking the inside of the post after being left with only Green to beat.


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