Stand-in skip sends Utd clear
Ronaldo scores twice to surpass Best's tally
Last Updated: 19/03/08 11:01pm
Ronaldo: Another decisive double
Cristiano Ronaldo set a new landmark as Manchester United moved three points clear at the top of the table with a 2-0 home win over Bolton Wanderers.
The Portuguese winger, who was captain for the night in the absence of several senior players, struck twice in the opening 20 minutes at Old Trafford.
He put United in front on nine minutes when scuffing home a shot to equal George Best's record of 32 goals in a season for a winger.
And on 20 minutes he surpassed the Red Devils legend when he hit a stunning free-kick for his 33rd goal of a remarkable campaign.
In between, Kevin Davies was denied by a smart stop from Tomasz Kuszczak, but the result leaves Bolton deep in the relegation mire.
Bolton manager Gary Megson's tactic of packing defence and midfield was hardly unexpected, but it took less than nine minutes for United to nullify them.
Carlos Tevez threatened to score only for Ricardo Gardner to whip the ball off his toe, but from the resulting corner Ronaldo struck.
It was not the most beautiful of Ronaldo's many goals but it was crucial.
First the winger rose to head back Nani's corner, Tevez missed an overhead kick but Bolton only half-cleared and Ronaldo was swiftly there to strike a shot into the ground and home from 12 yards out.
Nani blazed over after a jinking run, but in the 18th minute Bolton put together a thrilling move that nearly earned them an equaliser.
The inspiration was Danny Guthrie, the midfielder on loan from Liverpool and Bolton's best player of the night, surging out of midfield and then down the right where he sent over a searching cross.
Davies' movement had seen him shake off Gerard Pique and he slid in at the far post only to see Kuszczak make an excellent stop.
The costliness of that miss was hammered home as Ronaldo made it 33 goals for the season, and 24 in the league, after being fouled by Abdoulaye Meite.
It was another of those tremendous Ronaldo free-kicks which rose, dipped and swerved from 30 yards out over a six-man wall to leave Ali Al Habsi clutching thin air.
Gretar Steinsson tried to get Bolton back into it but failed with a wild drive, before Tevez curled a left-footed shot into Al Habsi's arms after a scintillating dribble.
United nearly made it three in first-half injury-time as first Darren Fletcher's low drive was blocked and then John O'Shea blasted wide.
Immediately after the break Steinsson, moved to centre-back, played Bolton into further trouble by chopping down Tevez on the edge of the box.
Old Trafford awaited Ronaldo, but he was the decoy and instead Nani took the free-kick and only a sprawling dive by Al Habsi kept the ball out.
Spell of pressure
But then followed Bolton's spell of pressure and United had cause to thank their keeper.
First Davies' threatened but shot low and straight at Kuszczak, then Diouf did have the ball in the net with a quickly-taken free-kick but referee Alan Wiley ruled it out on the grounds he had not whistled for him to strike it.
Bolton did not complain too much, but when Diouf put the re-taken kick in the same spot Kuszczak was waiting for it.
The Polish keeper then performed heroics to tip over after Nicky Hunt caught a volley perfectly from 30 yards out and the ball looked destined for the top corner.
Gavin McCann was next to find Kuszczak impregnable as the keeper turned aside his low strike.
United responded to end the revival and the Ronaldo hat-trick looked odds on when he ran at the Bolton defence, performed a couple of step-overs and sent in a fierce shot but Al Habsi was able to parry his effort.
Louis Saha should have sealed matters after a neat side-step but lost his cool and found the stands instead.
As United poured forward for a third, Nani had three decent chances in quick succession, two missed and one saved. The home fans were left cursing they had not fallen to his captain.
|Manchester United||Team Statistics||Bolton Wanderers|
|2||1st Half Goals||0|
|9||Shots on Target||7|
|8||Shots off Target||5|
Barclays Premier League
|12||West Ham United||35||37|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||33||33|