London: Shinji Kagawa became the first Asian player to score a Premier League hat-trick with the Japanese midfielder’s stunning display inspiring runaway leaders Manchester United to a 4-0 victory over Norwich City, at Old Trafford, on Saturday.
Another capacity crowd had turned up expecting to witness Ryan Giggs make his 1,000th senior appearance but it was newcomer Kagawa, who was only one when Giggs made his United debut in 1991, who stole the show as United went 15 points clear.
The 23-year-old put United ahead on the stroke of halftime and scored twice more after the break before Wayne Rooney’s late screamer rounded off a victory that left Alex Ferguson’s side romping towards a 20th English title.
Despite the proximity of United’s Champions League last 16, second leg clash with Real Madrid on Tuesday, United fielded a strong line-up although Giggs was given a rare afternoon off.
Chelsea leapfrogged Tottenham Hotspur into third place with Demba Ba’s first-half goal earning under-fire manager Rafa Benitez’s side a 1-0 win against West Bromwich Albion.
A toxic atmosphere had been expected at Stamford Bridge after Benitez’s outburst on Wednesday, when he criticized the club’s board and supporters for not giving him their full backing since his appointment as interim manager.
However, the backlash never materialised and Ba’s 28th-minute goal, from David Luiz’s nod-down, helped remove any tension that may have surfaced. Chelsea was dominant throughout and secured a third straight home win in the league to climb above Tottenham.
Interim boss Benitez, who criticised the club’s fans in the week when he confirmed he would leave the club in May, was spared the anticipated barracking from the stands as Chelsea moved a point above Tottenham who face Arsenal on Sunday.
Everton revived their flagging hopes of a top-four finish and qualification for the Champions League with a 3-1 defeat of Reading to move to within six points of Spurs.
Bottom club Queens Park Rangers capitalised on Reading’s defeat, winning 2-1 at Southampton to leave Harry Redknapp’s side four points adrift of fourth from bottom Wigan Athletic who host Liverpool later on Saturday.
League Cup winners Swansea City avoided any hangover with a 1-0 home win against Newcastle United, Sunderland hit back from a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 at home to Fulham and West Ham United eased any relegation fears with a 1-0 win at Stoke City.
Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick for Liverpool in a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic to move above Manchester United's Robin van Persie in the Premier League scoring charts with 21 and maintain his side’s top-four hopes.
Kagawa, whose first season at Old Trafford has been hampered by injury, volleyed United’s 900th Premier League goal after being teed up by Robin van Persie.
Norwich rarely threatened a repeat of their victory over United earlier in the season and Kagawa’s cool finish from Rooney’s unselfish pass made it 2-0 after 76 minutes.
His historic hat-trick was completed three minutes from time after another Rooney assist before Rooney himself turned finisher with a 25-yard curler. “It’s brilliant for him. The lad is a good finisher and his second goal was so composed and an intelligent finish while his third was absolutely brilliantly taken,” Ferguson said. (Agencies)