Cristiano Ronaldo News

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Report: United 4 Watford 0

31/01/2007 21:55, Report by Ben Hibbs

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney orchestrating, United were always in control of this match as the Reds maintained the six-point lead over Chelsea with a comprehensive 4-0 win over struggling Watford.

Despite a slow start, United took the lead through a Ronaldo penalty, but it was a ten-minute second-half spell which gleaned an own goal and one apiece for Wayne Rooney and substitute Henrik Larsson to secure all three points.

Sir Alex made five changes to the team that beat Portsmouth 2-1 in the FA Cup on Sunday, most notably promoting United’s two-goal hero Rooney to the starting line-up along with Ronaldo, back from a week-long mid-season break. Gabriel Heinze, Kieran Richardson and John O’Shea were also called upon as the Reds boss rotated his squad, while Tomasz Kuszczak retained his place in goal ahead of Edwin van der Sar.

Watford, still rooted to the bottom of the table, were without influential goalkeeper Ben Foster, who could not play against his employers due to Premier League rules. They also lacked the pace in attacking areas of Ashley Young, recently departed to Aston Villa for nigh on £10million. There were clear signs of the problems facing Hornets boss Aidy Boothroyd, who had to select 37-year-old left-back Chris Powell in central midfield.

United’s early play was neither slick nor incisive in the first ten minutes, but as the half progressed the Reds began to assert more pressure on a Watford side set up merely to survive. Rooney sent a header looping narrowly wide on 13 minutes, before Michael Carrick so nearly found the striker unmarked in the area with a drilled pass.

Sir Alex’s men took the lead on 19 minutes with a helping hand from Watford defender Jay Demerit, who tugged Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back in the area. Referee Mike Dean had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Ronaldo had no problems beating Richard Lee with a well-placed and powerful spot-kick – his 14th goal of the season, all of which have come in the Premiership.

United are capable of playing at a frenetic pace at times, but this was a more patient first-half display, the Reds rarely venturing out of second gear. Therfore, it was almost with shock and surprise that Watford so nearly equalised with a rare attack. Powell’s skewed cross had Kuszczak back-peddling frantically. The ball looped over the Polish goalkeeper before coming back out off the post.

The Reds always appeared capable of moving up the gears. Ronaldo and Rooney were central to every United attack. But it was the aerial threat of Nemanja Vidic from a corner that almost brought about a second Reds goal. The Serbian, unchallenged in the penalty area, was close to his fourth goal of the season as he arrowed a powerful header just over the bar. He went close again five minutes later with another header, this time sending his effort wide.

It was a strong end to the half for the Reds, which United ended with a right-footed Kieran Richardson shot that was deflected millimetres over. United were good for the lead, but after a slow start could be slightly disappointed not to have made more of the team’s goalscoring opportunities.

The Reds continued to make numerous chances in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Rooney was a whisker away from seeing his drive nestle in the far corner of the net, while Solskjaer and Richardson both miscued shots from inside the area.

On the hour mark the Reds finally made the team’s pressure and possession pay, again at the expense of a defensive oversight from Watford. Richardson latched onto Rooney’s pass out to the left winger and aimed his cross at Ronaldo. In trying to block the centre, Hornets defender Lloyd Doyley headed into his own net.

The Reds continued to pepper the Watford goal and soon stepped up the tempo in search of a third. Ronaldo had a header saved by Lee, who threw anything and everything at the Portuguese winger’s header from Rooney’s inch-perfect cross. Somehow it worked.

With just over 25 minutes remaining, Henrik Larsson replaced Solskjaer up front, and within five minutes he was on the scoresheet. The Swede's clever exchange of passes with Rooney opened up Watford's defence. And when Rooney slid an expertly disguised pass, Larsson clinically did the rest, side-footing past Lee to make it 3-0.

Two minutes later a fourth arrived as the momentum carried United forward. Ronaldo advanced toward the 18-yard line, before dinking the ball over the Watford back four for Rooney, who in turn lofted his shot over Lee for his fourth in three games.

At the end, United’s fans were “ole-ing” as the Reds kept possession for virtually the entire three minutes of added time. Watford could barely get near the ball, perhaps a metaphor for the game itself.

Team Line-ups

United: Kuszczak; Neville (c), Ferdinand, Vidic (Silvestre, 75), Heinze; Ronaldo, Carrick (Brown, 75), O’Shea, Richardson; Rooney, Solskjaer (Larsson, 64).
Subs not used: Van der Sar, Park.

Watford: Lee; Mariappa, Demerit, Doyley, Stewart (c); Bangura, Francis, Bouazza; Smith (Williamson, 72), Henderson (Kabba, 76).
Subs not used: Chamberlain (GK), McNamee, Hoskins.

Attendance: 76,032

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