22/04/2009 21:44, Report by Steve Bartram
United 2 Portsmouth 0
Another nervous evening's work at Old Trafford, but goals at either end of the 90 minutes from Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick gave United three points against Portsmouth, putting clear daylight between champions and challengers in the Barclays Premier League title race.
A procession of chances came and went in-between the two strikes, meaning much of the evening made uncomfortable viewing even though United - and in particular the front pairing of Rooney and Ryan Giggs - often had Portsmouth chasing shadows.
After Sunday's FA Cup semi-final marathon against Everton, Sir Alex Ferguson made wholesale changes for the second successive game, with a string of big-name players returning. Two of them - Giggs and Rooney - combined sumptuously to put United ahead inside nine minutes.
Darren Fletcher, back from injury and on the lung-busting form of recent weeks, won the ball and it was quickly ferried forward to Anderson, whose excellent pass allowed Giggs to spring the visitors' offside trap. Waiting in the centre was Rooney, who finished with aplomb after a perfect rolled cross from his veteran colleague.
Amid the joy and release of any early tension, attentions switched to skipper Gary Neville, who sat stricken in his own half after sustaining a foot injury. After consultation with the club's medical staff, the club captain was promptly replaced by John O'Shea.
With the prospect of a three-point lead looming, United were clearly intent on also boosting a goal difference which had been overtaken by second-placed Liverpool in recent weeks, and the chances came thick and fast.
It was O'Shea who came closest to doubling the Reds' advantage before the break, as he headed Giggs' left-wing corner past James, only for Nadir Belhadj to smuggle the ball off the line and away to safety.