United close the gap
Rooney and Ronaldo both bag braces
By James Dall. Last Updated: 23/02/08 9:24pm
Ronaldo: Terrific, once more
Manchester United moved within three points of Premier League leaders Arsenal as they heaped misery on Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United with a 5-1 triumph.
United were in fine form at St James' Park, sweeping The Magpies - who are still without a win since Keegan's return to Tyneside - aside with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo netting braces and Louis Saha slotting home in injury-time.
It was naïve defending from Newcastle that allowed The Red Devils to break the deadlock as an unmarked Rooney ghosted in at the back post to fire home Ronaldo's cross from close-range.
Ronaldo doubled United's lead before the interval, finishing coolly from Carrick's fine pass, and then made it 3-0 on 56 minutes as he took advantage of sloppy defending to round goalkeeper Steve Harper and slot home.
Abdoulaye Faye fired a consolation for Newcastle in the 79th minute; however United rubbed further salt in the home side's wounds as Rooney hit a glorious, curling effort before Saha shot low past Harper in stoppage-time.
Kevin Keegan might have thought his players had ridden out the early storm as they went close to the opening goal with just four minutes gone when skipper Michael Owen flicked a near-post shot wide from Charles N'Zogbia's cross.
However, with 25 minutes gone, Ronaldo curled an inch-perfect cross to the far post for Rooney to side-foot home.
The fact that the goal came just seconds after Owen had seen penalty appeals for an untidy challenge on him by international team-mate Rio Ferdinand waved away by referee Chris Foy simply only exaserbated Newcastle's woes.
To their credit, the home side did their best to mount a fightback, with Damien Duff and James Milner both going close.
Former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton gave the ball away in the middle of the park and United once again tore their hosts open with lightning pace and superb movement.
Ronaldo's scorching run gave the Newcastle defence no chance, but it was Michael Carrick's incisive pass which handed him the chance to slide a shot past the helpless Shay Given.
Given's involvement ended at the break when he was replaced by Steve Harper with his groin injury still causing him problems before the break.
Newcastle set about their task with a certain determination and went close twice in quick succession, Duff forcing a solid save from Edwin van der Sar at his near post and then United old boy Nicky Butt smashing a long-range effort wide.
United were content to try to hit the home side on the break, and they did just that to stunning effect on 56 minutes when, after spurning an earlier opportunity, Ronaldo made the most of Steven Taylor's slip to round Harper and fire home the third goal.
Duff and N'Zogbia both went close as the Magpies gamely fought on, but it was defender Faye who claimed a little consolation 12 minutes from time with a close-range finish.
But United had to have the last word, and they did when Rooney curled home a superb right-foot shot two minutes later with Saha setting the seal on a comfortable win in injury time.
|Newcastle United||Team Statistics||Manchester United|
|0||1st Half Goals||2|
|4||Shots on Target||8|
|7||Shots off Target||6|
Barclays Premier League
|10||West Ham United||28||31|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||27||25|