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Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick reignites Manchester United’s top-four hopes

Cristiano Ronaldo salutes the fans following the Premier League victory over Norwich at Old Trafford (Martin Rickett/PA)
Cristiano Ronaldo salutes the fans following the Premier League victory over Norwich at Old Trafford (Martin Rickett/PA)

Manchester United kept alive hopes of a top-four finish as Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over bottom-placed Norwich.

On a day of protests against the Glazer family, United capitalised on defeats for Tottenham and Arsenal to cut the gap to fourth-placed Spurs to three points and overtake the Gunners on goals scored.

It was Ronaldo’s second treble in as many Premier League appearances at Old Trafford and gave him 21 goals for the season.

Green and gold flares filled the air along with chants against the long-despised owners before kick-off, with thousands joining the protest organised by a recently-formed supporter group called The 1958.

Anti-Glazer songs continued throughout a contest that looked set to end in a surprise draw after Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki goals cancelled out Ronaldo’s first-half brace.

But Ronaldo produced a thumping 76th-minute free-kick to provide some cheer for United and leave Norwich seven points from safety with only six games remaining.

Spurs suffered a shock 1-0 home defeat thanks to Leandro Trossard’s 90th-minute goal.

Manchester United v Norwich City – Premier League – Old Trafford
Manchester United fans protested against the club’s Glazer ownership before the 3-2 victory against Norwich at Old Trafford (Jacob King/PA)

A week after Brighton had beaten Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, the Seagulls repeated the trick as Belgium forward Trossard weaved into the area and poked home.

Spurs were well below par after four successive wins had handed them the initiative in the race for Champions League football next season and failed to muster a single shot on target.

For Brighton, it was back-to-back wins for the first time since September.

Victory took them into the top half of the table and raised hopes of a highest-ever Premier League finish.

Arsenal failed to take advantage of Tottenham’s slip in the lunchtime kick-off when losing 1-0 at Southampton.

Jan Bednarek’s strike on the stroke of half-time condemned the Gunners to a fourth defeat from five games.

Arsenal retain a game in hand on Spurs, albeit a tricky trip to Chelsea, but another shot-shy performance from Mikel Arteta’s side will not fill the Gunners faithful with hope.

Southampton v Arsenal – Premier League – St Mary’s
Southampton’s Jan Bednarek (left) scores his side’s winner against Arsenal (Kieran Cleeves/PA)

The Gunners dominated possession for much of the afternoon at St Mary’s but in the absence of the ill Alexandre Lacazette they often lacked a cutting edge and rarely troubled the resolute Saints.

Victory for Saints ended a five-match winless league run to boost their aspirations of a top-half finish.

The decisive moment came after Arsenal only partially cleared a James Ward-Prowse corner.

Romain Perraud recycled the ball and Mohamed Elyounoussi set up Poland defender Bednarek to lash home his fourth goal of the season.

Watford’s slim survival chances suffered another blow as Brentford won 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

The Bees took an early lead when Christian Norgaard slotted the ball home after 15 minutes.

Emmanuel Dennis levelled for the Hornets 10 minutes into the second half.

But Pontus Jansson’s header in the second minute of stoppage time secured Brentford’s fifth win and leaves Watford with a mountain to climb to avoid the drop.