Kagawa hat trick keeps United on course for title
By Steve Douglas, APLONDON -- Shinji Kagawa's hat trick and a stunning goal from Wayne Rooney maintained Manchester United's march to the Premier League title on Saturday, while Rafa Benitez was spared a fierce backlash from Chelsea fans in the team's 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
March 4, 2013, 12:26 am TWN
Luis Suarez matched Kagawa's exploits by scoring three times in Liverpool's 4-0 win over Wigan, lifting him above United striker Robin van Persie to the top of the division's scoring charts with 21 goals.
United provisionally moved 15 points clear with a 4-0 thrashing of Norwich at Old Trafford, with Japan midfielder Kagawa opening the scoring just before halftime and grabbing two more well-taken goals to become the first Asian player to score a hat trick in England's top division.
“It was a brilliant day for him,” said United manager Alex Ferguson, who left Ryan Giggs out of the matchday squad to keep the veteran midfielder waiting for his 1,000th senior competitive appearance for club and country.
Rooney garnished the scoreline with a long-distance screamer in injury time as United warmed up for its Champions League match against Real Madrid in style. Second-place Manchester City plays Aston Villa on Monday.
Chelsea provisionally moved into third place — four points behind City — thanks to Demba Ba's 28th-minute winner, giving Benitez some respite after his midweek tirade against the club's fans and board that appeared to leave him in a precarious position.
The hostility among the home support was expected to be cranked up but the atmosphere was relatively calm inside Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the serenity to secure a crucial win in its battle for a finish in the Champions League spots.
“There were a lot of positives,” Benitez said. “The reception from the crowd was quite good. I wanted everybody to stick together.”
Tottenham, which provisionally slipped to fourth, hosts fifth-place Arsenal on Sunday.
Last-place Queens Park Rangers gave its survival hopes a boost by winning 2-1 at Southampton to move three points adrift of Reading, which lost 3-1 at Everton.
Swansea's first game since winning the League Cup final last weekend ended in a 1-0 victory at home to Newcastle, with Luke Moore scoring a late winner, while Sunderland came from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Fulham.
West Ham stopped its slide into the relegation trouble by beating Stoke 1-0 away.
All the pre-match build-up centered on the possibility of Giggs reaching his milestone, but it was another midfielder who stole the headlines at Old Trafford.
Playing only his second game since January, Kagawa showed just why Ferguson spent 12 million pounds bringing him from Borussia Dortmund in the summer with his best display in a United shirt.
All his finishes were classy, his first a measured volley inside the near post to put United on its way. Kagawa then wrong-footed Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn in the 76th after running onto Rooney's pass and he chipped Bunn to complete his hat trick three minutes from time.
Kagawa, who has struggled to recover his best form after sustaining a knee injury in October, walked away with the match ball for scoring three goals but the best strike was saved for last, as Rooney shimmied past a defender before looping a brilliant shot into the top corner from 30 yards.
The win was sealed despite Ferguson leaving out Rafael da Silva, Rio Ferdinand and Tom Cleverley, who are all set to return to the first team for the last-16 second leg against Madrid on Tuesday.