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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 May, 2003, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Man Utd close in on title
David Beckham celebrates after putting Manchester United ahead
Beckham celebrates his opener
Man Utd 4-1 Charlton

Ruud van Nistelrooy moved Manchester United to within touching distance of the Premiership title with a stunning hat-trick to dispatch Charlton.

Van Nistelrooy took his tally for the season to 43 goals and delivered three emphatic reminders that he remains at the top of his game.

United were given an early scare when Claus Jensen took advantage of a Roy Carroll error to cancel out David Beckham's deflected opener inside 13 minutes.

But when Van Nistelrooy struck for the ninth successive game on 31 minutes, the result was never in doubt.

From then it seemed merely a question of how many as United moved on to 'plan B' - improving their goal difference.

The victory moved United four goals clear of Arsenal in that department and may even mean that a draw on the final day of the season could be enough to clinch the title.

But on this evidence, goal difference won't come in to it.

And, if Arsenal fail to beat relegation-threatened Leeds at Highbury on Sunday, the title will already be United's.

Sir Alex Ferguson's goal-hungry side made an impressive start and had already threatened when Beckham opened the scoring on 11 minutes.

11 mins: Beckham's deflected strike puts United ahead
13 mins: Jensen punishes Carroll mistake to equalise
31 mins: Van Nistelrooy hooks home from a corner
37 mins: Superb control and finish secures Van Nistelrooy's second
54 mins: Dutchman completes his hat-trick with a clinical finish from superb Beckham pass

Chris Powell was beaten in the air by Van Nistelrooy from Mikael Silvestre's deep cross and the former England defender's desperate stretch to block Beckham's resulting shot only succeeded in deflecting the ball beyond Dean Kiely.

Beckham's passionate celebration of the opener hardly smacked of "adios" and went further to killing off rumours of a move to Real Madrid than any club statement had managed.

But Charlton were quick to respond, though their equaliser came courtesy of a flustered clearance by goalkeeper Carroll.

The former Wigan stopper hacked at Roy Keane's back-pass and the ball fell perfectly for Jensen to curl home in some style.

Charlton's subsequent resistance was dogged and was aided by a disallowed goal as John Fortune headed into his own net after the whistle had blown for Beckham's push on Kiely.

Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates with David Beckham after putting Manchester United 3-1 up
Van Nistelrooy celebrates his second goal with Beckham

But there was no argument when Van Nistelrooy coolly reinstated United's lead on 31 minutes, brilliantly hooking home after a corner had fallen to him in a crowded penalty area.

Eight minutes before half-time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer flicked on another searching Silvestre punt and Van Nistelrooy reacted clinically, controlling well and then lobbing the onrushing Kiely.

John O'Shea nearly added another on the stroke of half-time, when only the outstretched arm of Scott Parker denied him his first United goal.

But United stretched their lead further nine minutes into the second half with a stunning goal to complete Van Nistelrooy's merciless hat-trick.

Beckham's outstanding cross-field pass was killed in an instant by the striker who then flashed a right-foot shot beyond the helpless Kiely to complete a handsome win in front of a Premiership record crowd of 67,721.

Man Utd: Carroll, O'Shea, Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Beckham, Keane, Scholes (Veron 69), Giggs (Butt 77), van Nistelrooy, Solskjaer (Forlan 77). Subs not used: Barthez, Phil Neville.

Charlton: Kiely, Kishishev (Sankofa 73), Young, Fortune, Powell, Lisbie (Johansson 84), Jensen, Parker, Konchesky, Bartlett, Euell (Bart-Williams 78). Subs not used: Rachubka, Stuart.
Booked: Fortune.

Attendance: 67,721.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).

BBC Five Live's Ian Brown
"Charlton's wafer-thin defences were exposed"

Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson
"I couldn't ask for anything more"

Barclaycard Premiership table
Sat May 03
Click on a team for full coverage
1Man Utd373980
8Man City37-651
14Aston Villa37-345
16Leeds 36-241
17West Ham37-1741
19West Brom37-3625



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