Carrick let off the hook as boo boys vent fury at winger

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The Independent Football

They came to boo Michael Carrick, not to praise him. But by the time this hectic match was halfway through, all the abuse from the White Hart Lane crowd had transferred from their former midfield idol to the quicksilver figure in the red No 7 shirt, Cristiano Ronaldo, whose trickery in earning the penalty which brought United their crucial breakthrough just before half-time appeared, upon second or third viewing, questionable.

That possibility was very obviously afforded to the fans during half-time as the screens above either goal showed that the player who is now being spoken of as potentially the greatest talent in the world - and attracting rumoured links with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona - may not actually have been tripped by Steed Malbranque as the Spurs midfielder attempted to halt his mesmeric incursion from the right.

Certainly Malbranque was left claiming his innocence after Ronaldo had burst between full-back Young-pyo Lee and himself.

As for the penalty kick itself, there was no shred of doubt about it as Ronaldo's low drive made the fact that England keeper Paul Robinson guessed correctly which way to dive irrelevant. Carrick's early touches, all characteristically efficient, were greeted with a rumble of boos, although the reason for the home crowd's antipathy to their former favourite was not entirely clear. The midfielder had merely arrived at Spurs from West Ham to further his ambitions, and moved on to Old Trafford for the same reasons.

Such a career trajectory always leaves the club left - and its supporters - with a nagging sense of inferiority. It is an emotion with which even the Old Trafford faithful might become familiar should Ronaldo respond to the recent urging of his Portuguese team-mate Deco and join him at Barcelona.

The half-time TV generated a roar of outrage around the ground - although no discernible reaction in the corner where the travelling Man U fans were holding their own private party. And, of course, the moment Ronaldo touched the ball after the break he was reviled. Was it coincidental that his form became substantially better, his touch more deadly, in the face of the noise? Booing, it seems, has become Ronaldo's natural element. The original target had a hand - or rather a head - in helping United double their lead two minutes after the break, his effort at the far post being parried behind for a corner by Robinson. From that kick, Nemanja Vidic struck with unanswerable power. But then Mr Unpopularity returned, gliding down the right wing ahead of an edgy and backtracking Young-pyo Lee before de-activating the Korean full back with a taunting shimmy. He then drove a venomous low cross that ended any lingering hopes Spurs may have had, allowing Paul Scholes, who may have been fortunate not to have been booked following a series of clumsy fouls, to turn the ball over the line. Ronaldo's substitution after 68 minutes allowed the home crowd a final opportunity to express their fear and loathing. Three minutes earlier, Wayne Rooney had been reluctant to leave the pitch after Alex Ferguson had gestured for him to take an early breather ahead of England's midweek game. There was no such unhappiness on Ronaldo's part as he bounded over to take his place on the bench alongside the disgruntled Scouser, who, despite his efforts, never quite managed to engage with this match. As for Ronaldo - his work was done.

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