Premier League – Rampant United pile misery on Pompey
Manchester United roared back to the summit of the Premier League table with a 5-0 thumping of crisis club Portsmouth at Old Trafford.
It took 40 minutes for the champions to break the deadlock but once Wayne Rooney hit the back of the net with his 21st goal of the season, Pompey’s resistance faltered and the floodgates opened.
In-form Nani forced an own-goal out of Anthony Vanden Borre on the stroke of half-time before Michael Carrick‘s shot took a hefty deflection off Richard Hughes to register a third 14 minutes after the restart.
Dimitar Berbatov added a fourth on 62 minutes before a third own-goal, this time a spectacular effort by the unfortunate Marc Wilson, completed the rout seven minutes later.
Pompey, who this week were taken over for a fourth time in 12 months, remain rooted to the bottom of the pile, six points adrift of their nearest rivals.
As expected given the 18-place gap between the two sides going into the game, United were dominant from the outset, easily keeping possession of the ball and barely allowing Pompey out of their own half.
To some extent that was by Pompey’s design, as boss Avram Grant opted to play with just Frederic Piquionne up front in the hope of catching the hosts on the break.
It is a situation seen often enough at Old Trafford – sometimes it works for the away team, but more often than not it fails.
This time it worked for a total of 40 minutes as Pompey stood firm in the face of a constant barrage of crosses into the box and United were frustrated in their attempts to find a way through.
Yet, despite their territorial advantage, the champions only managed to create two clear-cut goalscoring chances prior to breaking the deadlock, Jonny Evans floating a header wide on 12 minutes before Berbatov conspired to stab wide from close range 10 minutes before the interval.
Pompey even managed to carve out several chances of their own on the counter, Vanden Borre and Algeria international Nadir Belhadj both bringing early saves out of Edwin van der Sar before the World Cup-bound wide man saw a 34th minute effort hacked off the line by Evans.
That last scare prompted United into action and soon after Berbatov’s glaring miss they took the lead through Rooney.
The England striker nodded home from close range following Darren Fletcher‘s excellent ball into the box, although the watching Ray Clemence, England’s goalkeeping coach, will not have been impressed by David James‘s failure to deal with the cross.
At least Clemence will be able to report back to Fabio Capello that Rooney’s robust form is showing no signs of ending. Only three times in Premier League history have United players scored more than Rooney in a season – Ruud van Nistelrooy, twice, and Cristiano Ronaldo. And it is still only February.
United soon doubled their advantage, Nani forcing an own-goal for the second time in a week after some devilish trickery on the left led to his cross taking a cruel deflection off Vanden Borre and beating the wrong-footed James at his near post.
Two-nil up and the writing appeared to be on the wall, but there was still time before the break for Pompey to head down the other end and claim a penalty when the ball appeared to hit Patrice Evra on the arm.
Referee Lee Mason turned down the appeals and with that went any hope Pompey may have harboured of getting back in the game as United came out for the second half and soon killed it off.
Berbatov signalled United’s intentions with a delightful flick to put in Antonio Valencia 10 minutes after the restart – the Ecuadorian’s effort was on this occasion well-saved by James – before Carrick’s effort on goal took a big deflection off Hughes, looped over James and went in off the underside of the bar.
Three minutes later United got a fourth, Berbatov making up for his earlier profligacy with a low shot that beat James after Tal Ben Haim had given him far too much space to turn and pick his spot.
Pompey’s misery was completed on 69 minutes when Wilson netted a third own-goal of the day, a spectacular volley into the roof of the net as he tried to clear his lines from a cross.
The moment summed up Pompey’s day, and it would have got even worse had substitute Mame Biram Diouf not blazed over from close range in the 81st minute.
The bedraggled club have now won just once in their last eight Premier League matches – and just one of their last 25 away from home in the top division.
Meanwhile United, as is their tradition, appear to be hitting form just at the right time.
Mike Hytner / Eurosport