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Last Updated: Friday, 2 May, 2003, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Man Utd in Ruud health
By Paul Atherton

Man Utd's Ruud van Nistelrooy celebrates after scoring yet another goal
Van Nistelrooy has epitomised United's hunger this season
Ruud van Nistelrooy's first Premiership winner's medal is just reward for the flying Dutchman who spearheaded Manchester United's march on the title.

While it would be wrong to label United as a one-man team, Van Nistelrooy's contribution has stood out above any other.

The 19m striker's 12 goals in seven successive games during the run-in helped cement United's surge to the title after they had trailed Arsenal by eight points at the beginning of March.

His late goal at Tottenham saw him become United's first striker since Denis Law to reach the 40-goal milestone, 40 years ago.

It is an astonishing tally, all the more so considering Van Nistelrooy's slow start to the season.

League: 24
FA Cup: 4
League Cup: 1
European: 14

By the beginning of November he had scored just once from open play as United's season got off to a stuttering start.

But any fears that the striker's 36-goal debut season was a fluke were quickly dispelled with a run of seven goals in four games in November.

That same month Van Nistelrooy netted his 50th goal for the club against Newcastle before equalling United's European record of 18 Champions League goals with two against Basle.

The 26-year-old embarked on a similar goal-scoring burst at the turn of the year and got his latest run under way with a stunning hat-trick against Fulham, which included a contender for goal of the season.

His third hat-trick of the campaign in the 4-1 demolition of Charlton put United in touching distance of the title.

Man Utd's Ruud van Nistelrooy
Van Nistelrooy's goal against Spurs was his 40th of the season

The only drawback for United is that when Van Nistelrooy is absent he leaves a big hole, one that Ferguson finds hard to fill with a single player.

Diego Forlan and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have performed admirably when called upon but United do not look the same without their Dutch talisman.

Van Nistelrooy and not, significantly, Roy Keane has epitomised United's hunger this season.

More than any other United player, the striker was devastated to finish last season empty-handed.

And just as Keane came to symbolise Ferguson's United in the late 90s, Van Nistelrooy is set to be the focal point of Ferguson's side for the rest of the decade.


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