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United front to club split

A MANCHESTER United supporter in the front row of the South Stand at Old Trafford was rebuked by a steward for daring to raise a green-and-gold scarf during a minute's silence to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the Munich air disaster.

Others sporting the colours that have come to symbolise the growing tide of opposition to the Glazer family's ownership of United were denied entry to executive lounges until they removed the offending garments, but no amount of officialdom was going to silence those fans again intent on voicing their anger at the controversial Americans.

The protests did not extend to the pitch, though, where Portsmouth, despite a bright start, surrendered the moment Wayne Rooney put United on course for a predictable romp with his 23rd club goal of the campaign and, in doing so, equalled his best return for a season.

How United fans must wish that the Glazers would lay down their arms as easily as Avram Grant's team. The battle to wrestle control of the Premier League champions away from Floridian foes is likely to be long and arduous, but, on this evidence, Portsmouth's fight against relegation will prove short-lived. Just as United are building up a head of steam, Portsmouth, now under their fourth owner this season, lurch from one crisis to the next.



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Grant's team selection reflected the importance of tomorrow's match at home to Sunderland, but results alone will not determine the club's fate. They may even have the lights turned off -- literally -- at their training ground today if an overdue electricity bill is not paid.

Compared with the gravity of Portsmouth's plight, the United fans' spat with the Glazers amounts to a playground squabble. But for all their fears -- centred on the club's £716.5m debt -- there are still plenty of reasons to smile.

This may be no one's idea of a great United team, but 15 goals in the past four league matches is arguably more of an encouraging sign than Rooney's persistent excellence, even if three of the five plundered on Saturday were courtesy of Portsmouth players.

Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher are forming a strong alliance in midfield, Nani produced another lively display and even Dimitar Berbatov -- doing nothing to dispel the belief that he is little more than a flat-track bully -- enjoyed himself, a fine finish for United's fourth bringing a rare smile to the Bulgarian's face.

And all this in the continued absence of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, the new England captain, who was a spectator as he sat out the second game of his four-match ban for violent conduct.

Rooney, though, continues to draw the most praise, even if, like his team, he rarely ventured out of second gear against Portsmouth, who seemed to lose all hope after squandering an excellent chance to take the lead when Nadir Belhadj's shot was cleared off the line.

When Rooney headed in Fletcher's cross seven minutes later, his 12th goal in 15 matches against Portsmouth, and Nani's cross deflected in off Anthony vanden Borre, Portsmouth's 17th defeat in 24 league games was inevitable.

"He's getting his just deserts now because he is more mature," Patrice Evra, the United defender, said of Rooney. "He's not lost any desire to still press the ball, but he knows he needs to score a lot of goals because [Cristiano] Ronaldo has gone. He's changed his mentality, he wants to be a killer and that is very important for us."

Grant could have been forgiven for walking away by now, but to his great credit, the Portsmouth manager is determined to lead by example.

"I cannot take the easy solution for myself," he said. "The players give everything and the supporters are great, so how could I say to them that I'm leaving now? I will do everything to help keep this club alive."


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