United on the brink of retaining title

London, May 3:

A Cristiano Ronaldo double helped Manchester United coast to a 4-1 win over West Ham that leave them on the brink of retaining the Premier League title.

The only blot on an otherwise perfect afternoon for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side was the red card Nani received for head-butting West Ham captain Lucas Neill, which means the Portuguese winger will miss the final match of the season at Wigan, when United will expect to wrap up their 17th English title.

Despite booking their place in the Champions League final at Barcelona’s expense four days earlier, United were seeking their first league win in three games after a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea last Saturday and a 1-1 draw at Blackburn.

Yet Ferguson had insisted on the eve of the game that his side were in the driving

seat to win his 10th Premier League title. With Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic

still out injured, the United manager opted to stick with the 11 who had disposed of Barcelona four days earlier.

That meant Anderson, Ryan Giggs, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher had to be content with a place on the bench as United’s final home game of the season turned into a carnival occasion. Any fears that their Champions League exploits might have left the home side drained were extinguished as early as the fourth minute by Ronaldo.

A fatal slip by West Ham’s Neill allowed United’s leading scorer free to charge into the penalty area and score from 12 yards with the aid of a deflection off George McCartney. United went further ahead in the 24th minute. Ronaldo, unmarked in the six-yard area, used his thigh to direct Owen Hargreaves’s cross over the line after James Tomkins had failed to cut out the England international’s ball into the area.

Tevez then smashed home the goal of the game — a dipping strike from 30 yards — in the 26th minute. Dean Ashton did give the visiting fans something to cheer about when the striker beat Edwin van der Sar with an impressive overhead kick.

Seven minutes later, West Ham were given a potential lifeline when Nani was shown a straight red card for head-butting Neill after what appeared to be a sly pinch by the Australian defender. Referee Mike Riley booked Neill for his part in the incident.

But despite being forced to play for almost an hour with 10 men, United looked superior throughout and they went 4-1 ahead when Michael Carrick scored just before the hour mark with the aid of a heavy deflection off Neill.

United tired towards the end but could still have made it five, Scotland midfielder Darren Fletcher striking the inside of the post after being left with only Green to beat.