| Ruud van Nistelrooy (centre),who scored a hattrick, celebrates with David Beckham and Wes Brown after Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford Saturday. (Reuters)
Manchester, May 3 (Reuters): A hattrick from Ruud Van Nistelrooy and a goal from David Beckham gave Manchester United a 4-1 win over Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford on Saturday and moved them closer to the English League title.
United now have 80 points with one match to play. Arsenal, the only other contenders, have 72 from 35 games and would concede the championship if they failed to beat Leeds United at Highbury on Sunday.
However, the race is far from over. If Arsenal win their two matches in hand, against Leeds and fellow Cup-finalists Southampton next Wednesday, they will move to within two points of United before the last games of the season on May 11.
Arsenal visit relegated Sunderland on that day which should give them another victory, but United have a much tougher final match at Everton.
But whatever the twists that are still to come, it was all smiles for United as Van Nistelrooy marked his 100th match for United with a hattrick, taking his goal tally for the season to 43 — just three short of the club’s season scoring record of 46 established by Denis Law in 1963-64.
Van Nistelrooy scored after 31, 38 and 53 minutes and has now scored 79 goals for United in his century of games. He has also found the target in the last 11 matches, including two internationals for the Netherlands — and is joint-top scorer in the Premier League this season with James Beattie of Southampton with 23 goals.
United took the lead after 11 minutes when Charlton defender Chris Powell failed to clear a high cross, allowing David Beckham to chest the ball down before shooting.
But Charlton equalised less than two minutes later when United goalkeeper Roy Carroll, in for the dropped Fabien Barthez, sent a clearance straight to Claus Jensen, who scored with a first-time shot from 30m with the goalkeeper chasing back helplessly.
Van Nistelrooy put United back in front after 31 minutes with a hooked shot when Charlton failed to clear a corner, and made it 3-1 after 37 minutes when he lifted the ball over Kiely.
He completed his third League hattrick of the season after controlling a cross-field pass from Beckham with one deft touch, sweeping the ball home under Kiely's body in the next instant with a low drive.
The victory made it 45 points from the last 51 available for United.