United close gap on Chelsea

Portsmouth 1 Manchester United 3

Manchester United raced into a three-goal lead against struggling Portsmouth as the home side failed to record a hat-trick of home Premiership wins against the visitors.

Pompey had beaten United in successive home Premiership fixtures before today’s encounter but given a master class in first-half finishing.

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.

Pompey showed that they will not go down without a fight with a belligerent effort in the second half and deservedly pulled back a goal three minutes from time when substitute Wayne Routledge’s cross was headed in by Matt Taylor.

They could have shocked United again with further goals after the visitors had stepped off the gas but the home side failed to find the net.

For 18 minutes, before United scored their first Premiership goal at Fratton Park, and for brief moments afterwards, Pompey looked like they might have the ambition and drive to register their third consecutive home win over Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

But by half-time three stunning finishes had killed all that – and left Portsmouth’s relegation fears even sharper in focus, and United’s title hopes just a tiny bit more realistic.

Chelsea must have felt just as numbed by a shock 3-0 defeat at Middlesbrough as Pompey’s new goalkeeper Dean Kiely did after United’s thunderous drives.

The first of them came from Giggs after a wonderful run and an exchange of passes with Van Nistelrooy.

The ball hit the underside of the bar after the Welsh ace had rounded Kiely, leaving himself with a difficult angle, and the Dutchman headed in the rebound.

Then Portuguese star Ronaldo took over. When Ji-Sung Park made a brave downward header in the 37th minute, Ronaldo let fly with a 25-yard shot that rose late over the goalkeeper’s head.

When Wayne Rooney set him up in first-half injury time, Ronaldo was again clinical with his finishing which had the benefit of a deflection to help it home.

Before United’s opening goal Portsmouth striker Benjani Mwaruwari was denied by a fine defensive header from Wes Brown and then blasted an inviting opportunity over.

Lomana LuaLua raced down the left, cut inside Brown’s challenge and fired across Edwin van der Sar and narrowly wide of the far post.

But Ronaldo’s two strikes just before the interval took any real sting out of the game.

Pompey boss Harry Redknapp took off midfield playmaker Andres D’Alessandro - who had been constantly giving the ball away – at the break and Sean Davis shortly afterwards, looking for more width.

United had a new goalkeeper for the second half, Tim Howard taking over from van der Sar who had suffered a groin strain in the first period.

And they withstood Pompey’s frantic attempts to keep the game competitive with some disciplined defending.

Mwaruwari bicycle-kicked over, LuaLua was just off target and Routledge fired not far wide in a gallant finale.

But United could have doubled their tally as Van Nistelrooy lost control with only Kiely to beat from Rooney’s pass and the England striker then tried to lob the ‘keeper when a simple drive would have sufficed.

Howard’s save denied the ever-willing LuaLua, playing just a few days after hearing of his baby son’s death and returning from the African Nations Cup, and kept out a long-range shot by Pedro Mendes 10 minutes from the end.

When Taylor netted a header from Routledge’s returned cross there was suddenly late hope and Mwaruwari headed straight at the ‘keeper.

Pompey now have 12 games to save their Premiership status and are eight points adrift of safety with a visit to Chelsea next up.

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