By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick saved Manchester United’s blushes as they made hard work of beating relegation-threatened Norwich on a day of protests against the Glazer family.
Green and gold flares filled the air along with chants against the long-despised owners before kick-off on Saturday, with thousands joining the protest organised by a recently-formed supporter group called The 1958.
Anti-Glazer songs continued throughout an Old Trafford encounter that looked set to end in a surprise draw after Kieran Dowell and Teemu Pukki goals cancelled out Ronaldo’s brace.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt” bellowed some as fan discontent grew, only for star man Ronaldo to rifle home a stunning 25-yard free-kick and seal a hard-fought 3-2 win against Canaries.
A first win in five weeks for Ralf Rangnick’s side was hardly a resounding response to last week’s loss at Everton, but surprise defeats for Tottenham and Arsenal on Saturday have injected new life into United’s top-four hopes.
By contrast, Dean Smith’s rock-bottom Canaries saw their chances of beating the drop dim as Ronaldo proved their undoing on an afternoon when off-field anger dominated the pre-match conversation.
The protestors made their feelings loud and clear before the game, with a number of fans remaining outside until the 17th minute – one minute for every year of the Glazer’s ownership.
Those inside Old Trafford let their feeling known from the outset as the team kicked on after an early Pukki chance that David De Gea stood up to.
Anthony Elanga, Jadon Sancho and Ronaldo had early attempts for the attack-minded hosts, who pressed Norwich into a costly seventh-minute mistake.
Elanga has been a rare bright spot in a wretched season for the Old Trafford giants and his pressing led to him rob the ball off flustered Ben Gibson before squaring for Ronaldo to simply slot home.
Jesse Lingard, Diogo Dalot and Sancho had efforts as the United onslaught continued whilst chants against the Glazers echoed around Old Trafford.
Tim Krul superbly denied Lingard at the near post as United pushed for a second that would arrive from a 32nd-minute corner, with Ronaldo rising above Gibson to head home Alex Telles’ set-piece.
Ronaldo sent an audacious overhead kick over against a Norwich side that had created precious little, only to all too easily outmanoeuvre the hosts on the stroke of half-time.
Pukki played inside to Dimitris Giannoulis and United somehow failed to track the Finland forward’s run inside, so too Dowell’s burst to the backpost where he headed home unmarked.
It was a gut punch at the end of what had been a largely one-sided first half and Krul prevented Lingard’s sweetly-struck volley restoring United’s two-goal advantage early in the second period.
Norwich did not make any changes at the break and appeared to have been buoyed by Dowell’s goal, with the roles reversed as City stunned Old Trafford in the 52nd minute.
Goalscorer became provider as Dowell put Pukki through, impressively keeping his cool before striking past De Gea and in off the near post.
The goal was ratified after a VAR check for offside and Milot Rashica would have turned the game on its head was it not for a fine one-handed stop by De Gea that tipped his 20-yard strike wide.
Ronaldo saw a header saved from a Telles corner and Dowell tried his luck from distance as both teams continued to push.
Some United fans showed their discontent and Norwich smelt blood, with Rashica blocked by Dalot before Sam Byram headed over.
A number of fans welcomed Paul Pogba’s substitution, letting him know in no uncertain terms that are happy for him to leave this summer, as the mood threatened to darken.
But as anger mounted Ronaldo provided a release for all those connected to United, hitting a thumping free-kick that Krul could only tip onto the inside of the post as Old Trafford rocked to its foundations.
Bruno Fernandes saw a shot saved and United held off a late Norwich attacks to secure a much-needed three points.