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Premiership: Man Utd rout Leicester 4-1
( 2003-09-28 11:13)

Ruud van Nistelrooy was back in the limelight for all the right reasons with a devastating hat-trick as Manchester United swept aside injury ravaged Leicester with an emphatic 4-1 win at the Walkers Stadium.

The Dutchman had missed a last-minute penalty in the explosive encounter with Arsenal last weekend, was jostled by several of the Gunners as he left the pitch and had been branded a cheat by Arsene Wenger.

But Van Nistelrooy had maintained a dignified silence amongst all the mayhem and he was at his best as Sir Alex Ferguson's side reduced the gap between themselves and leaders Arsenal to a single point.

It means that Leicester are still looking for their first home Premiership win against the Red Devils who sliced through their defence almost at will via the skill of fit again Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

Scholes, back in action after his hernia problem, set up the first two goals and it would have been a welcome sign for Sven-Goran Eriksson ahead of England's vital Euro qualifier with Turkey in a fortnight's time.

The game was over as a contest after United struck twice in a minute in the first half and it allowed Ferguson the luxury of being able to bring off and rest up Roy Keane, Scholes and Giggs ahead of the mid-week Champions League game with Stuttgart.

Leicester were outclassed but they never threw in the towel and had at least the consolation of scoring.

Scholes was soon involved and released Quinton Fortune in space on the left flank but, after cutting inside, he dragged his shot wide of Ian Walker's post.

Darren Fletcher showed his potential for the first time when he collected another pass from Scholes and slipped inside Ben Thatcher before striking a well struck shot straight at Walker.

Leicester carved out a decent opening after 12 minutes when Paul Dickov took advantage of some hesitancy in the United defence and chipped the ball through to Marcus Bent.

United 'keeper Tim Howard was quickly out to narrow the angle and the on-loan Ipswich striker sent his shot wide of the far post.

But United effectively killed off the contest by netting twice in the space of 60 seconds through Keane and Van Nistelrooy.

Scholes showed typical vision to pick out Keane who beat the offside trap and coolly side-stepped Walker before netting his first goal of 2003-2004.

Leicester had no time to recover from this reversal before Van Nistelrooy doubled the lead for the Red Devils.

Scholes attempted a low shot from 25 yards out which fell invitingly into the path of the Dutchman who controlled the ball and then easily beat Walker from 10 yards out.

United looked as if they could score at will and Van Nistelrooy stabbed an effort wide from close range after appearing to be taken by surprise by Ryan Giggs' dipping cross.

Leicester retaliated briefly and Gerry Taggart got on the end of an outswinging Muzzy Izzet free-kick from the right flank only for Howard to hold onto his low header.

A cross from Fletcher should have been tucked away by Van Nistelrooy but he lost control after chesting the ball down.

City boss Micky Adams was forced to bring off Thatcher, who has been suffering from 'flu all week, and replaced him at left-back with Alan Rogers.

But it hardly mattered and United were soon back on the offensive and a minute before half-time Van Nistelrooy added number three.

Ferdinand was the creator this time with a ball into the United predator who turned inside Frank Sinclair before volleying the shot into the roof of the net.

Keane was replaced at half-time by Djemba-Djemba as United continued to dominate proceedings and after 52 minutes Van Nistelrooy completed his own personal treble.

Djemba-Djemba was the provider with a first time pass from inside his first half and Van Nistelrooy had time to steady himself before drilling a low shot past the exposed Walker into the corner of the net.

Marcus Bent almost pulled a goal back for Leicester but John O'Shea managed to block his close range attempt.

Leicester had to replace Ian Walker, who was suffering from a back problem, with Danny Coyne, but they at least staged a fighting finish.

After 73 minutes Frank Sinclair pulled a goal back with a header from Izzet's corner and then a 20-yard drive from Bent thumped against the crossbar.

Ferguson hails Ruud and team

Sir Alex Ferguson saluted hat-trick hero Ruud van Nistelrooy - but insisted events in the explosive encounter with Arsenal had not acted as an extra motivation for the Dutchman.

Ferguson told MUTV: 'I don't think it has been a difficult week for Ruud. As far as we are concerned, he has done nothing wrong. We will leave it to the FA to deal with and keep our powder dry.

'I don't think the previous week's episode was any kind of motivation for Ruud. His motivation has always been that he is a world class footballer who loves scoring.'

Ferguson was delighted with his team's performance and believes the return of Paul Scholes will take some of the pressure of van Nistelrooy to keep on scoring.

He said: 'I think today's performance was probably one of the best of the season. The movement and passing was outstanding.

'We also defended well. We had watched Leicester on video and knew they would be a threat from set-pieces and crosses if we did not defend right and for 80 minutes we did that.

'I am very pleased that Roy Keane got on the scoresheet. I was astonished when someone told me it was 41 games since he last scored.

'I knew there was something wrong with his game!

'It is important that other players score for us and Paul Scholes was back in the side and is always someone likely to get on the scoresheet. That hopefully will not place such a burden on Ruud to always score.'

Ferguson added: 'I was slightly disappointed about conceding a goal towards the end but, with the changes we made in the second half, it was possible it might happen.'

Leicester manager Micky Adams bemoaned his side's poor defending as they lost at home for the first time since Boxing Day.

He said: 'It was poor defending. From our point of view, you can't do that. We talked about concentrating at all times against this mob. If you don't, they punish you - and we were punished.

'Scholes caused problems. If you defend deep then he will find little pockets to play in and he showed what a world class player he is.

'I think this was also the first time that United have not had two games in a week and they had time to prepare, get the episode at Old Trafford out of their mind and get on with football.

'I felt that there might be some kind of backlash - and that's the way to do it.'

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