Manchester United vs Norwich City. Premier League.
Match report and free highlights as Cristiano Ronaldo scores hat-trick to edge Manchester United to 3-2 win over Norwich at Old Trafford; Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki pull Canaries back from two goals down before free-kick thunderbolt secures victory for hosts
Sunday 17 April 2022 07:50, UK
Cristiano Ronaldo sealed his hat-trick with a stunning free-kick to rescue a 3-2 victory for Man Utd over Norwich, having earlier blown a two-goal lead at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo's second hat-trick in five games put some shine on another underwhelming performance from United, whose pursuit of a top-four spot was nonetheless strengthened thanks to defeats for rivals Arsenal and Tottenham.
They looked to be strolling to victory when Ronaldo was teed up for an early tap-in after Ben Gibson was caught in possession (7) and grabbed a second by nodding home Alex Telles' corner (32).
Norwich had created chances without threatening to defy their goal-shy reputation until Kieran Dowell headed Teemu Pukki's cross past David de Gea on the stroke of half-time, and the Finland striker beat the offside trap to level seven minutes into the second period.
On an afternoon where the pre-match preparations had been overshadowed by widespread protests outside the ground against the Glazer ownership, the atmosphere around Old Trafford began to sour to the point that Paul Pogba was booed on his substitution at 2-2. However, Ronaldo's 25-yard thunderbolt free-kick winner with 15 minutes remaining restored the good feeling around the ground, and put the hosts right back in contention to finish fourth.
Norwich remain seven points from safety with six games to play, with their hopes of survival continuing to look increasingly bleak.
Man Utd:De Gea (7), Dalot (6), Maguire (6), Lindelof (6), Telles (5), Pogba (5), Lingard (7), Elanga (7), Fernandes (6), Sancho (6), Ronaldo (9).
Subs: Matic (6), Rashford (6), Mata (7).
Norwich: Krul (5), Byram (6), Gibson (5), Hanley (7), Giannoulis (6), McLean (6), Normann (6), Dowell (7), Lees-Melou (5), Rashica (7), Pukki (7).
Subs:Gilmour (6), Placheta (5), Rowe (n/a).
Man of the match: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Debate has surrounded Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford since he joined from Juventus on Transfer Deadline Day last August but the six-time Ballon D'Or winner has dragged his side to results almost single-handedly at times.
Without his goals they may well have failed to qualify from their Champions League group and his treble against Norwich could yet play a major part in reaching the same tournament next season.
Anthony Elanga deserved most of the credit for his opener, catching Gibson in possession and squaring for a simple finish, but his second was all of his own making with an excellent near-post run and header from a Telles corner.
His third, a direct free-kick goal which has become all-too rare for the Portugal forward in recent years, felt like a throwback to his first spell at Old Trafford with Krul beaten by the sheer power on his 25-yard effort, which he could only palm in off his near post.
Whether or not the 37-year-old does remain in Manchester for the second year of his contract will not be determined until the summer, but whether he does or not his contribution to United's season is without doubt.
Manchester United's recent run of form, winning only once since mid-February and failing to keep clean sheets in their last four games, offered Norwich some hope before kick-off and the absence of a defensively minded midfielder - with Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba operating in the double pivot - aided their belief.
But the number of chances created by Dean Smith's side, who had scored only 20 league goals all season, and the ease with which Manchester United's defence was opened up was far in excess of what any team chasing Champions League qualification would expect.
Before Dowell's lifeline goal Pierre Lees-Melou wasted a glorious three-on-two opportunity when waiting too long to play Pukki through, while the Finland striker also blazed over from a corner when unmarked.
They could not blame Ralf Rangnick's team selection for the dreadful defending which led to the forward's equaliser either. Dowell's long diagonal ball found him in space behind Telles, and with Victor Lindelof reluctant to close him down he raced through before firing in off De Gea's near post.
Ronaldo's individual brilliance would go on to reignite their chances of finishing in the top four, but more of the continued defensive lapses they produced against Norwich would go a long way to scuppering those hopes.
Rangnick conceded the afternoon had been one of frustration with United's on and off-field issues, but criticised fans for booing Pogba as he was substituted for Marcus Rashford moments before Ronaldo's winner.
Footage on social media also appeared to show the France midfielder cupping his ears to the Stretford End before he headed down the tunnel after the full-time whistle.
Rangnick told Sky Sports: "To be honest I didn't hear it, I was just informed in my office that there had been some issues at the end of the game.
"I can fully understand that the fans are frustrated, so are we and so are the players and the staff, but I don't think they should target individual players. We have a collective responsibility, everybody here and that's why I don't think it's right or correct to take on individual players."
Manchester United travel to Liverpool on Tuesday at 8pm - live on Sky Sports Premier League - while Norwich host Newcastle on Saturday at 3pm.