Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice on his return to Manchester United as the hosts eventually cruised to victory against Newcastle United and delighted a packed Old Trafford.
Ronaldo was applauded from the moment he exited the team bus upon its arrival at the stadium, throughout the warm-up, and then once the game began, and he repaid the support in the best way possible.
Ronaldo broke the deadlock in first-half added time after visiting keeper Freddie Woodman spilled Mason Greenwood’s shot, 12 years after he last scored for Manchester United in this stadium.
After former Liverpool defender Javier Manquillo equalised with his first goal for Newcastle, Ronaldo completed a flowing move by racing on to Luke Shaw’s through ball and drilling a low shot through Woodman’s legs.
Bruno Fernandes scored the game’s first goal after collecting Paul Pogba’s square pass and curling a shot into the top corner from the edge of the area, before substitute Jesse Lingard added a fourth in added time.
The margin of victory was harsh on Steve Bruce’s team, who performed admirably for long stretches. Newcastle’s efforts, however, were insignificant to the ecstatic home fans, who had the added bonus of seeing their team return to the top of the Premier League.
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Significant day at Old Trafford
It only took a glance in the directors’ box to realise that this was a special day for the hosts.
Ryan Giggs, another legendary former Manchester United forward, was also present. So, too, were executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who hadn’t been seen since the Super League disaster, and co-chairman Avram Glazer, who was making his first visit to Old Trafford in two years.
Both Glazer and Woodward were instrumental in Ronaldo’s return to the club from Juventus.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson was arguably even more influential in the move, ringing the Portuguese to beg him to return to the club where he is still revered as a hero rather than accept an offer from Manchester City.
Ronaldo demonstrated that, even at the age of 36, he still has a lot to offer and that the club’s efforts to entice him back were worthwhile.
His first goal demonstrated the value of foresight, as he followed Greenwood’s shot in when the Newcastle defenders hesitated.
The second highlighted Ronaldo’s ability to cause problems for defences as he charged clear to bring his Manchester United tally to 120.
However, there would be no repeat of the hat-trick he scored against Newcastle at Old Trafford in January 2008.
Nonetheless, with Fernandes scoring the type of goal that has earned him hero status at the club and Lingard demonstrating the ability he demonstrated on loan at West Ham, it was a victory that transcended the contribution of a single individual – even if Ronaldo’s name will dominate the aftermath.
Newcastle hope extinguished
Ronaldo’s historic goal must have felt like a kick in the gut for former Manchester United captain Bruce.
Newcastle’s home record is dismal, and the build-up to this game cast them in the role of spoilers, attempting to derail a party that had been planned all week.
Newcastle were excellent thanks to a combination of disciplined defending, what could be kindly described as ‘time management’ – which irritated the home fans greatly – and incisive counter-attacks.
Allan Saint-Maximin, Sean Longstaff, and Joe Willock were all in positions to threaten David de Gea’s goal but were unable to beat the home keeper.
Ronaldo’s goal with the half-time break approaching undid all of that hard work, and it was completely avoidable.
When Greenwood took aim, Isaac Hayden was standing next to the Portuguese, but unlike Ronaldo, he didn’t gamble on the outcome and was unable to challenge when Woodman made his error.
Newcastle, to their credit, redoubled their efforts after halftime, and for a brief moment after capitalising on a Harry Maguire error to launch a superb counter-attack that resulted in Saint-Maximin prodding a ball through for Manquillo’s second goal in English football, a second Old Trafford victory since 1972 seemed possible.
That hope was dashed when Ronaldo returned to centre stage, prompting visiting fans to renew their chants for change at the club’s top.