Cristiano Ronaldo News

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Report: Aston Villa 0 United 3

23/12/2006 15:01, Report by Adam Bostock

Two clinical finishes by Cristiano Ronaldo, including the 2,000th goal of Sir Alex Ferguson's reign, saw United return to winning ways on one of their favourite away grounds.

However, even the brilliant winger was upstaged by the Reds' other effort - an absolute screamer from Paul Scholes, so reminiscent of his famous strike against Bradford almost seven years ago.

All three goals were scored in the second half as the Reds stepped up from a worrying first 45 to claim their eighth winning visit to Villa Park in a row.

First Half

Cristiano Ronaldo signalled his intent early in the first half when he ran at Villa's rearguard from the halfway line and forced a corner as young centre-back Gary Cahill slid in to block the shot. The first corner was earned moments earlier by Ji-sung Park, making his 50th appearance for the Reds and his first start since the August win at Charlton. The Korean later had a goalscoring opportunity carved out for him by Fletcher and Neville but sadly he dragged his effort wide with insufficient contact on the ball.

The quality of Gareth Barry's setpieces posed a reasonable threat to United. Scholes fouled Petrov in a seemingly harmless area of the pitch, but when the Villa skipper's free-kick was nodded on, it gave Craig Gardner the chance to head the ball against van der Sar's left-hand post. The United keeper reacted well to prevent the rebound off Davis creeping over the line.

Nemanja Vidic was once, almost twice, the villain for United after quarter of an hour. The Serbian centre-back scythed down the pacy striker Gabriel Agbonlahor to earn a yellow card - and a Boxing Day suspension - and then nearly headed the resulting free-kick goalwards. Fortunately van der Sar was alert again to pluck Barry's corner out of the air.

After surviving a spell of pressure, the Reds found their usual outlet in Ronaldo and when he backheeled the ball into Patrice Evra's path, the full-back unleashed the cleanest strike of the half so far into Gabor Kiraly's clutches. The pairing of the Portuguese and the Frenchman were giving former Newcastle defender Aaron Hughes a headache at right-back, but somehow United couldn't take the torment a step further and find the killer pass.

A setpiece provided the Reds' next attempt, again saved by Kiraly - an inswinging corner from Giggs yielding a powerful if too direct header from Ronaldo.

Giggs was at the heart of United's best counter-attack in the first half after Fletcher took the ball off Steven Davis's toes on Villa's left flank and cleared to Saha. When the Welshman raced through the middle and laid off a pass to Ronaldo, the Portuguese winger curled a shot beyond the far post.

Second Half

Two of the quickest players on the park, Ronaldo and Agbonlahor, won corners for their respective sides in the first 90 seconds after the break. The crosses came to nothing however, leaving the game deadlocked.

With both teams wasteful in possession, there seemed little chance of the stalemate changing until Ronaldo went charging through the Villa ranks after receiving the ball from Giggs on the halfway line. The number seven broke his stride only to shoot and when the ball cannoned back to him off Cahill, he lashed it into the net to the left of Kiraly's dive. It was United's 2,000th goal under Sir Alex Ferguson - a remarkable feat but worth celebrating more for the impact it had on this match and the title race.

After waiting two-and-a-half hours for an away goal, two came along for United in the space of a few minutes. The all-important second, an absolute screamer by Scholes, rolled back the years. When a half-cleared corner dropped invitingly for him, the midfielder swung his right boot through it to send an unstoppable volley
dipping over the keeper and in off the underside of the crossbar. A clear contender for goal of the season, it recalled a similar strike scored by the same player at Bradford in March 2000.

Not that Scholes had it all his own way - or did he? The second booking for United was, on the surface, bad news but it gives the 32 year-old an enforced rest on Boxing Day when Wigan visit Old Trafford.

Rooney should be relatively fresh for that game, having entered the fray at Villa Park in the 66th minute. United were 2-0 up by then, but the substitute still had a busy 24 minutes as he helped Ronaldo to kill off the opposition. After seeing one shot blocked by Kiraly and another netted but ruled out for offside, the number seven tucked away Neville's low cross at the far post - again after good work by Rooney.

After an indifferent first half, it was a fantastic second 45 - and the perfect way to approach Christmas, back among the goals and back in form.

United's points tally after 19 matches bodes well for the race ahead - every team that has amassed 47 points at this stage in the past has gone on to win the Premiership title.

Team Line-ups

Aston Villa: Kiraly, Hughes, Mellberg, Cahill, Barry, McCann (Angel, 76), Gardner, Petrov, Davis, Agbonlahor, Sutton.
Subs: Olejnik, Bouma, Ridgewell, Baros.

United: Van der Sar; Neville (c), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Scholes (O'Shea, 88), Fletcher, Park (Rooney, 66); Giggs (Silvestre, 88), Saha.
Subs: Kuszczak, Brown. Posted by Picasa


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