United punish Pompey
Wayne Rooney (Gallo Images)
Manchester - Goals from Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick gave Manchester United a 2-0 win over Portsmouth that saw them go three points clear at the top of the Premier League. Wednesday's victory here at Old Trafford put the reigning champions back on top of the table with a game in hand after Liverpool had briefly been at the summit on goal difference following Tuesday's dramatic 4-4 draw with Arsenal.
Rooney's tenth Premier League goal of the season sent United on their way against Pompey before fellow England international Carrick made the game safe with eight minutes left. It was the perfect way for United to bounce back from their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Everton at the weekend. United, who have a game in hand on both Liverpool and third-placed Chelsea, are closing in an 18th English title that would equal Liverpool's record tally and they have now won 14 of their last 16 Premier League matches.
Portsmouth had the better of the early exchanges and winger Nadir Belhadj shot high and wide from distance as the visitors enjoyed plenty of early possession in the United half. But with just eight minutes on the clock, United made the breakthrough with their first real attack. Brazilian midfielder Anderson picked out Ryan Giggs on the left flank and the veteran's low cross was stabbed in from close range by Rooney.
Despite the early breakthrough, there was a downside for United with captain Gary Neville limping off with what looked to be a foot problem shortly after the goal. But Anderson continued to threaten and after he played Rooney through only for the England striker's effort to be saved by David James, the United midfielder shot wide himself following the Portsmouth goalkeeper's slack throw.
Just before the half hour, Giggs' corner was glanced towards goal by Neville's replacement John O'Shea but Belhadj managed to head off the line. And soon afterwards Giggs was played into the area by Rooney only for James to race out to block.
James was called into action once again to save from Rooney's low drive. Giggs should have made the game safe five minutes before the interval after Sol Campbell's poor header played Cristiano Ronaldo into space. The Portuguese tore down the right wing and sent over a low cross that Giggs stabbed just wide of James's goal.
Seconds before the half-time whistle, Darren Fletcher sent Ronaldo clear down the right and his cross was helped on by Rooney only for Fletcher to drive wide from just inside the area. United continued to hunt for a second goal after the restart and Sean Davis did well to head away Ronaldo's cross with Rooney poised to pounce.
Sir Alex Ferguson has had to deal with regular injury problems in his defence this season and he had another when Rafael came on for O'Shea.
There was a scare for the hosts when Glen Johnson was allowed to carry the ball into the United area and his cross was palmed away by Edwin van der Sar and then hacked clear by Jonny Evans.
United were more than happy to sit back and wait for their chances to come but they were almost caught out again midway through the second period by a Portsmouth side still not yet safe from the threat of relegation.
Davis's diagonal ball was misjudged by Patrice Evra. That in turn allowed Jermaine Pennant to cross but Peter Crouch failed to test van der Sar.
Paul Scholes, making his 600th United appearance, then set up the goal that took his side close to another title when his typical through-ball released Carrick to break through and guide the ball into the corner of James's net.