Cristiano Ronaldo propelled Manchester United closer to defending their Premier League title yesterday, scoring twice in a 4-1 victory over West Ham United.
The Red Devils were racing to victory after Ronaldo took his tally to 40 goals in all competitions with strikes in the third and 24th minutes, before Carlos Tevez added a third against his former club in the 26th.
But Dean Ashton pulled one back two minutes later and United were reduced to 10 men in the 37th when Nani was ejected for headbutting Hammers captain Lucas Neill.
Former West Ham midfielder Michael Carrick secured the win in the 59th, giving United a three-point lead over title rivals Chelsea, who play Newcastle tomorrow.
United seemed to have maintained the momentum from Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona, with the unchanged team exhibiting no signs of exertion.
Ronaldo took the ball near the sideline and went passed West Ham captain Lucas Neill before cutting into the area from the right and unleashing a shot which deflected off defender George McCartney into the bottom of the net.
More erratic defending gifted Ronaldo his second — and 30th league goal.
Owen Hargreaves whipped in a cross, which went past center-backs James Tomkins and John Pantsil, allowing Ronaldo to divert the ball past Robert Green.
Two minutes later, Tevez beat Green from long-range with a dipping strike to pile the misery on his former side.
But the Londoners almost immediately pulled one back when United defender Wes Brown sent Bobby Zamora’s cross looping back into the path of Dean Ashton. Despite Rio Ferdinand almost clinging to him, the England striker executed an overhead kick from close range past Edwin van der Sar.
Despite the blip, United were cruising to victory — until Nani was sent off for headbutting Neill.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side kept its fluidity after the break, and Carrick picked up the ball from just beyond the halfway line and progressed 20m before cracking in a low shot from 30m which Neill’s boot diverted into the bottom of the net.
Ryan Giggs replaced Park Ji-sung in the 61st, putting him two appearances away from surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s club-record 758 games, with a match against Wigan and the Champions League final in Moscow remaining this season.
Until club statisticians delved into the archives this week, it had always been thought that Charlton had turned out 759 times, but they discovered that the England World Cup winner had missed an FA Cup game in January 1962 with influenza.