Cristiano Ronaldo had the last laugh over the Norwich City fans by winning and converting a penalty in Manchester United’s Premier League encounter at Carrow Road
Fittingly, with pantomime season upon us, Cristiano Ronaldo provided a moment of seasonal slapstick gold – before stealing the show.
With 15 minutes gone at Carrow Road, the Manchester United icon tried – even by his lofty standards – an audacious volley from 25 yards out.
Ronaldo has built his formidable reputation on plundering breathtaking goals over two decades of sublime brilliance, but on this occasion he showed the touch of Widow Twanky.
As the ball came down from the rain-soaked night sky, Ronaldo took a swipe at it with his left foot and missed it completely – an air shot from one of the most decorated footballers of all time.
The miss prompted howls of derision from Norwich fans and Ronaldo, suitably chastened, immediately sought redemption, by charging into Grant Hanley to retrieve the ball.
Ronaldo, aggrieved at his rare moment of humiliation, fouled Hanley and bundled into him with such force the Norwich skipper was unable to carry on and was substituted minutes later.
But it was Ronaldo, as is so often the case, who had the last laugh, silencing the home fans by winning and converting a penalty with 15 minutes left, to continue United’s revival under Rangnick.
It was Ronaldo’s 13th goal in 18 games since returning to United and continued proof he was brought back to Old Trafford to deliver far more than shirt sales, boost revenue streams and generate social media clicks and engagements, as cynics have claimed.
Yet until he was pulled back by Max Aarons and converted the resulting spot-kick, it had been an evening to forget for Ronaldo, the superstar falling well below his exalted standards.
But it is a measure of his brilliance that Ronaldo can be so anonymous, then change the script in an instant, his clever movement forcing the costly error from Aarons, which yielded the game’s only goal.
Krul saved two penalties against United the last time Norwich were in the Premier League, but on this occasion Ronaldo made no mistake, dispatching the ball with clinical precision.
The goal was reward for Ronaldo’s persistence on what was otherwise a subdued evening for him. After United’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace last Sunday, Ralf Rangnick’s first game in charge, the interim boss made a point of singling out Ronaldo for special praise.
Not for his heroics going forward, but for his work ethic and application throughout, Rangnick tipping his hat to Ronaldo afterwards by saying “chapeau to Cristiano” when asked about his performance.
Here, while Ronaldo may have lacked his usual fluency on the ball, his first touch and control deserting him, he never allowed his head to drop and that mindset ultimately won United the game.
Early on, when Ronaldo did get sight of the Norwich goal, he lacked his usual conviction, cutting back onto his left foot in the first-half to shoot straight at Krul, when the better option would have been to hit the ball early with his favoured right foot.
Norwich’s success in frustrating United was such that it took the Red Devils until the half-hour to muster their first direct shot on target. They produced little of note after that and were reliant on the continued brilliance of David De Gea, who produced two remarkable saves to deny Ozan Kabak.
But when you have a player of Ronaldo’s enduring quality and threat within your ranks, opponents can never rest easy – and so it proved for Norwich, whose spirit and ebullience was broken once they went behind.
Ronaldo could and should have made it 2-0 with five minutes left, Marcus Rashford slaloming down the left before delivering the ball to the feet of United’s No.7, who somehow managed to scoop his effort over from six yards out.
The miss was in keeping with Ronaldo’s earlier farcical effort, but it mattered not. United won their third straight Premier League game, are unbeaten in six in all competitions and are level on points with fourth-placed West Ham, with Ronaldo leading from the front in the Rangnick revolution.