PORTSMOUTH // Wayne Rooney ruined Avram Grant's return to management as he scored a hat-trick to guide Manchester United to a 4-1 victory at Portsmouth in a game full of penalty controversy. Two of Rooney's goals came from the spot, as did Kevin Prince Boateng's reply, leaving referee Mike Dean as the villain and Grant suffering flash-backs of his last defeat against United - on penalties in the Champions League Final with Chelsea.
The result, which also featured a late free-kick goal from Ryan Giggs, who scored his 100th Premier League goal on the eve of his 36th birthday today, leaves Grant's new side anchored to the bottom of the Premier League and reduces the gap between United and leaders Chelsea to just two points. On reflection it was a comfortable win for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, but Portsmouth can rightly say they gave the champions a fright before eventually succumbing in the second half.
Grant, still officially director of football for this match because his working permit has not yet come through, had insisted before the kick-off that "no team is unbeatable" and claimed to be confident of saving his club from relegation. Grant's arrival, and his history with Ferguson's team, certainly gave this game extra spice and it was quickly reflected on the field in what became a frenetic and controversial affair.
Portsmouth, switched to a 4-3-3 formation under their new leader, took the game to their rivals and fashioned two early chances, the first for Aruna Dindane who was denied superbly and bravely by Thomas Kuszczak, and the second for Jamie O'Hara, whose shot was spectacularly tipped over the bar. United also went close through Paul Scholes but referee Dean seemed determined to upstage everyone - and did so in some style.
First he awarded United a highly dubious 25th-minute penalty when Rooney threw himself to the floor under challenge from Michael Brown, who appeared to be desperately trying to avoid contact. Rooney converted the spot-kick with ease, but Dean had another trick up his sleeve when, after 32 minutes, he awarded a penalty so obscure that nobody in the stands or the press box could work out what it was for.
Kuszczak jumped to punch out a routine ball into the box and was astonished to hear the whistle go and Dean point to the spot. Was it for a shirt pull on Piquionne by Vidic? Was it a block by Valencia on Hreidarsson? Or was it just a matter of evening things up? Whatever the reason, Portsmouth took full advantage as Boateng stroked his penalty home to level the scores before half-time. United restored order shortly after the break, going ahead for the second time when Giggs calmly eased a ball through for Rooney to side-foot home after 48 minutes with the Portsmouth defence nowhere to be seen.
There was no controversy about this goal, even if home players raised their arms in desperate appeal, because Rooney was onside and his finish was faultless. It was the England striker's 11th goal of a highly productive season and his hat-trick goal came quickly - from yet another penalty. This time Frederic Piquionne tangled scruffily and needlessly with Giggs right on the edge of the area after 54 minutes and as the Welshman tumbled there was only ever going to be one outcome.
Rooney struck his penalty smartly past Begovic and the game was all but over as United became increasingly dominant. Giggs put the icing on the cake when he curled home his free kick in the 87th minute. Ferguson had promised a quick response after United's long unbeaten home record in the Champions League was ended by Besiktas in midweek, and he was true to his word. firstname.lastname@example.org