LONDON: Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick saved Manchester United’s blushes as they made hard work of beating relegation-threatened Norwich on a day of protests against the Glazer family.
Green and gold flares filled the air along with chants against the long-despised owners before kick-off on Saturday, with thousands joining the protest organised by a recently-formed supporter group called The 1958.
Anti-Glazer songs continued throughout an Old Trafford encounter that looked set to end in a surprise draw after Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki goals cancelled out Ronaldo’s brace.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt” bellowed some as fan discontent grew, only for star man Ronaldo to rifle home a stunning 25-yard free-kick and seal a hard-fought 3-2 win against Canaries.
A first win in five weeks for Ralf Rangnick’s side was hardly a resounding response to last week’s loss at Everton, but surprise defeats for Tottenham and Arsenal on Saturday have injected new life into United’s top-four hopes.
By contrast, Dean Smith’s rock-bottom Canaries saw their chances of beating the drop dim as Ronaldo proved their undoing on an afternoon when off-field anger dominated the pre-match conversation.
Arsenal’s faltering quest for Champions League qualification suffered another setback after they slipped to an uninspiring 1-0 Premier League loss at Southampton.
Tottenham’s shock home defeat to Brighton in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off offered the Gunners the chance to move level on points with their fourth-placed north London rivals.
But Mikel Arteta’s men blew a major opportunity to capitalise at St Mary’s as Jan Bednarek’s strike on the stroke of half-time condemned them to a fourth defeat from five games.
Arsenal retain a game in hand on Spurs, albeit a tricky trip to Chelsea, while their latest slip-up provides further encouragement for fellow top-four hopefuls Manchester United and West Ham.
The Gunners dominated possession for much of the afternoon in Hampshire, but in the absence of the ill Alexandre Lacazette they often lacked a cutting edge and rarely troubled Ralph Hasenhuttl’s resolute hosts.
On the occasions they did, they were frustrated by in-form Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who produced stunning saves to keep out joint leading scorers Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe either side of Bednarek’s decisive finish.
Victory for Saints ended a five-match winless league run to boost their aspirations of a top-half finish.
Watford’s already-slim survival chances took a heavy blow when Pontus Jansson’s last-gasp winner secured victory for Brentford.
The Hornets had started the game six points from safety, but required at least something from the match only to be denied when Jansson headed home in added time to secure a 2-1 win for the Bees.
Watford’s defensive frailties were evident throughout the game, and Brentford took an early lead when Christian Norgaard slotted the ball into the net from an unmarked position in the centre of the box.
The home side had to wait for their chances, but Emmanuel Dennis struck on his return to the starting line-up to draw his side level early in the second half.
Watford have equalled a record for the longest wait for a clean sheet at home with 21 games since their last in the Premier League, a memorable 3-0 win over Liverpool in the 2019-20 season.
Brighton made another potentially decisive impact on the top-four race as they enjoyed more success in north London by beating Tottenham 1-0 thanks to Leandro Trossard’s 90th-minute goal.
A week after they beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium to hand Spurs the initiative in the battle to qualify for the Champions League, they repeated the trick as Trossard weaved into the area and poked home.