Kagawa treble sends United 15 points clear

AFP, LONDON

Mon, Mar 04, 2013 - Page 18

Shinji Kagawa hit a hat-trick as Manchester United warmed up for the visit of Real Madrid with a 4-0 rout of Norwich City on Saturday that sent them 15 points clear in the Premier League.

United resume their round-of-16 tie against Madrid tomorrow following a 1-1 draw in the away leg and Kagawa’s first United treble ensured they would approach the game brimming with confidence.

“He is a good finisher,” United manager Alex Ferguson said of his side’s match-winner. “His injury in October, November set him back a bit, but he’s getting his form back slowly and gradually. His second and third, in particular, were terrific.”

Ryan Giggs was made to wait for his 1,000th senior appearance after being left out of United’s squad, but Ferguson selected his first-choice strike pairing of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.

The hosts dominated the first period at Old Trafford, but they had to wait until first-half stoppage-time to take the lead.

Japan international Kagawa claimed the goal, beating Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn with a near-post volley after Van Persie had helped on Antonio Valencia’s inswinging cross.

Kagawa doubled United’s tally 14 minutes from time, sweeping home from Rooney’s square pass, and then completed his hat-trick in the 87th minute by racing onto a Rooney layoff to coolly lift the ball over Bunn.

Rooney got on the scoresheet in the final minute with a beautiful strike into the top-left corner from outside the box to further amplify the task facing second-placed Manchester City, who visit Aston Villa today.

Chelsea drew a line beneath interim manager Rafael Benitez’s attack on the club’s fans by winning 1-0 at home to West Bromwich Albion to reclaim third place from Tottenham Hotspur, who were due to host Arsenal yesterday.

After criticizing Chelsea’s supporters last week, Benitez was greeted at Stamford Bridge by banners bearing the words “Rafa Out” and “The Interim One” — a reference to beloved former coach Jose “The Special One” Mourinho.

Oscar and Juan Mata both went close for Chelsea in the early stages, before Demba Ba scored the only goal in the 28th minute, hooking home from close range after David Luiz headed Oscar’s deep cross from the left back across goal.

“You can see today the fans were behind the team,” Benitez said. “There were a lot of positives.”

Bottom club Queens Park Rangers gave their bid to avoid relegation a huge shot in the arm by winning 2-1 at Southampton to close to within four points of safety.

Jay Bothroyd tapped in the winner from Park Ji-sung’s cross in the 77th minute at St Mary’s, after Loic Remy’s 14th-minute opener was canceled out by Gaston Ramirez’s clever dinked finish on the stroke of halftime.

“It was a big result for us,” QPR manager Harry Redknapp said. “It’s a difficult place to come and Southampton are a good team, but that’s what you get when you all work hard.”

Luis Suarez claimed a hat-trick as Liverpool cruised to a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic that moved them to within five points of the European places.

After Stewart Downing opened the scoring with a second-minute header, Suarez struck three times to take his tally for the season to a league-high 21 goals.

Reading, second from bottom, received another setback in their fight to avoid the drop as they sank to a third consecutive loss in a 3-1 defeat at Everton.

Marouane Fellaini broke the deadlock with a 42nd-minute header, with Steven Piennar’s fine goal making it 2-0 just before the hour.

Pienaar then created Everton’s third in the 66th minute with a through-ball that was converted by Kevin Mirallas, before Hal Robson-Kanu replied for the Royals.

Sunderland came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home to Fulham in an open game at the Stadium of Light.

A Dimitar Berbatov penalty and a Sascha Riether strike put the visitors 2-0 up inside 35 minutes, but Craig Gardner immediately reduced the arrears from the penalty spot and Stephane Sessegnon claimed a 70th-minute equalizer.

Elsewhere, substitute Jack Collison gave West Ham United a 1-0 win at Stoke City, while an 85th-minute Luke Moore effort earned League Cup winners Swansea City a 1-0 victory at home to Newcastle United.