MANCHESTER // If this turns out to be Portsmouth's last ever match they will not remember it fondly as Manchester United stormed to the top of the Premier League with a five-goal romp. Troubled Pompey face a court hearing next week to determine whether they can continue as a Premier League club and things are just as desperate on the field. Strikes from Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and two own goals were enough for United, who moved ahead of Chelsea at the top by a point - but for Portsmouth it is either relegation or extinction this year as their season hit new depths.
It has been as difficult to keep up with the twists and turns in the title race as it has been keeping up with the identity of Portsmouth's owners this season. Only this week, Balram Chainrai, a Hong Kong-based businessman, became the club's fourth owner of the season after he acquired 90 per cent of the shareholding from previous owner, Ali al Faraj. And while his new club battle on the pitch to survive relegation, he is battling in the courtrooms to keep the south coast club in business.
The new owner has attempted to postpone a winding up order from HM Revenue and Customs - a hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday - which could result in Portsmouth going out of business if they fail to strengthen their finances. Old Trafford stood still before kick off to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the Munich air tragedy and while the Manchester United faithful will never forget the heroes that perished in 1958, they have a new collection of idols intent on making history.
Rooney, fresh from scoring his 100th Premier League goal in the 3-1 victory against Arsenal last week, screamed for a penalty in the seventh minute but referee Lee Mason ruled Frederic Piquionne's challenge to be fair. Anthony Vanden Borre then called Edwin van der Sar into action at the other end in a rare Portsmouth attack and 10 minutes before half time, Jonny Evans had to clear Nadir Belhadj's shot off the line. The near escape galvanised United but they inexplicably failed to open the scoring when Berbatov somehow contrived to put his shot wide from six yards.
Rooney, as so often, was there to spare the Bulgarian's blushes five minutes later as he headed Darren Fletcher's cross home for his 22nd goal of the season and his 15th in as many games. The goal deflated an already fragile Portsmouth side but worse was to follow as Nani's strike deflected off Vanden Borre and squirmed underneath David James to leave Portsmouth reeling. It was a case of how many United would get after the break and in the end they settled for three. First, Carrick crashed home a deflected drive from 20 yards before Berbatov smashed in a fourth with half an hour to play - after he was allowed to waltz around unchallenged at the edge of the Portsmouth box with the ball at his feet for a good 30 seconds before finding space to shoot.
With attacks from every angle, Sir Alex Ferguson's men were rampant and were duly awarded with a fifth goal on 73 minutes. Patrice Evra's powerful cross could only be turned goalwards by Portsmouth's Marc Wilson, compounding his team's misery. Ferguson's United traditionally start to click at this stage of the season and with Chelsea at home to Arsenal today, he will be hoping his vanquished foes from last week will do him a favour.
It could have been six of the best for his side had Mame Biram Diouf kept his shot down but ultimately it was high fives all round as United ran riot. Ferguson said: "It took us a while to get going but we were patient. Teams come here to make it difficult but after the second goal it opened it up for us and we've gone to win well. Rooney is in great form - it was a great opportunity to take him off and give him a rest and we did that."