Manchester United 7-1 Blackburn Rovers
Dimitar Berbatov joined an elite group of Premier League sharpshooters with a five-goal display as Manchester United demolished Blackburn 7-1.
Since the new league was formed in 1992, only Andy Cole, Alan Shearer and Jermain Defoe have scored five in a single game.
Berbatov joined that band at Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon, scoring twice before half-time, then three more times after the break as United finally rid themselves of the shackles that have halted their progress this season.
It took the Bulgarian to 12 goals for the season and completed United’s first seven-goal haul since the defeat of Roma three years ago.
More importantly, it sent them powering to the top of the table for the first time this season, giving a significant boost to their goal difference as well at the start of a month that includes meetings with both Arsenal and Chelsea in a potentially pivotal seven-day December period.
Seven days ago, Berbatov did not even make the bench for the victory over Wigan.
Ferguson declined to come up with a plausible reason for omitting his record signing, stating only that he had been left out.
In midweek came an admission from the United boss that he was responsible for changing his team formation too much, leading to a dip in form by the Bulgarian, who had carried his side through the difficult early weeks of the campaign during Wayne Rooney’s malaise.
So, Rooney himself was not the only one to be glad he is back.
And whilst the England striker still awaits a goal in open play, it took Berbatov just 71 seconds to find the net for the first time since his hat-trick against Liverpool in mid-September.
Rooney might well have scored himself but could only touch on Nani’s left-wing cross. Berbatov made no mistake with a first-time shot.
It was a deflating experience for Rovers, as all their pre-match planning went up in smoke.
Having called for an improvement in performance from his team, who have been scraping results in recent times, Ferguson must have been delighted at the forceful manner with which they approached their task.
They could easily have been further ahead before one of a series of surging Anderson runs allowed Ji-sung Park to feed Rooney and race into the area to collect an excellent return pass and beat Paul Robinson with ease.
The South Korean has turned into a valuable source of goals recently.
Berbatov would be a more reliable option though. And certainly, other than Rooney, there was no better man Pascal Chimbonda’s backpass could end up at the feet of from a United perspective just before the half hour.
The striker steadied himself and crashed home a shot which set the seal on his side’s best half of the season.
It could have been more too as Nemanja Vidic should have headed home Nani’s free-kick with the goal at his mercy and Berbatov had a reasonable penalty claim turned down in stoppage time.
But if Sam Allardyce thought he had got off lightly, he was sadly mistaken as United scored twice within three minutes of the restart.
The first was magical for Berbatov. Releasing Evra with a deft back-heel, he collected the return pass, then sprayed a fabulous ball to Nani with the outside of his right-foot.
Nani can be infuriating at times. On this occasion, he did everything right, driving Blackburn’s desperate defence backwards before rolling a pass into Berbatov’s path, inviting the finish that brought up his second hat-trick of the season.
Blackburn’s defence was in meltdown and when Nani next took possession, he stepped inside Chimbonda before drilling a shot into the far corner.
For United – and Berbatov in particular – it was one of those days when everything went right.
It was no surprise at all when a Park shot that followed Rafael’s cutback should be deflected into the 30-year-old’s path.
Even when Berbatov was trying to supply others with opportunities, he profited. A pass to Rooney was blocked by Ryan Nelsen and from an acute angle, Berbatov beat Robinson for a fifth time.
Christopher Samba pulled one back for the visitors seven minutes from time.
Understandably, he saw no reason to celebrate. Only United and Berbatov were doing that.