Cristiano Ronaldo’s 50th club career hat trick, which including a stunning late free kick earned Manchester United a 3-2 win over Norwich City at Old Trafford on Saturday which just about kept their top-four hopes alive.
On Friday, United fans staged a protest against the ownership outside the clubs Carrington training ground and that continued before the clash with Norwich as thousands of supporters marched outside the ground.
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But with the protest still ongoing United — who had won just one of their last seven games coming into this match — looked set to run away with it as they went 2-0 ahead inside the first 32 minutes.
Ronaldo scored his first after just seven minutes as Anthony Elanga caught defender Ben Gibson in possession on the edge of the Norwich box to tee up the Portugal forward who finished off from close range.
United’s No. 7 got his second just after the half hour mark as he headed past Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul from a corner.
But Norwich pulled a goal back in first-half stoppage time Teemu Pukki picked out an unmarked Kieran Dowell to head home from just inside the six-yard box.
And the Premier League’s bottom side were level on 52 minutes as Dowell set up Pukki on this occasion with the Finland international beating the offside trap and keeping his cool to find the back of the net off the inside of the post.
But on 76 minutes, Ronaldo was United’s hero again as he sealed the victory with a superb free kick to complete his second treble of the campaign.
Following the match, United goalkeeper David de Gea said Ronaldo’s treble had meant United can still challenge for a top-four finish but called on his side to give more.
“Ronaldo has scored three very important goals for us,” the Spain international said. “We know we aren’t playing very well but we got three points.
“We should control the game more against Norwich at home. A massive win for us. We still have a chance to finish top four and we have to fight for it.
“We will fight for the top four until the last second.”
They are now only three points behind Tottenham Hotspur in fourth in the race for Champions League qualification, but United coach Ralf Rangnick was not overly confident of getting the job done, especially with title-chasing Liverpool up next on Tuesday.
“Everybody has seen today’s game, we all know what team we’re playing on Tuesday,” Rangnick added. “They might have the chance to win four trophies. If we play like we did today it will be very difficult to get even a point out of this game.
“Our defensive shape was the biggest issue for me today although I wouldn’t say shape because I don’t think it had anything to do with shape. I’m not really happy with our performance when we weren’t in possession of the ball.
“I know there are no easy games in this league but we have to defend better than we did today no matter what the opposition. Even more so if we think about the upcoming next games.”