NEWCASTLE, Mar 5 – Cristiano Ronaldo was involved in an angry confrontation in the tunnel after helping Manchester United restore their lead at the top of the English Premier League to seven points.The Portuguese international exchanged heated words with Steven Taylor after being caught by the defender’s flailing elbow during United’s 2-1 victory at Newcastle.
It was the champions’ 11th consecutive win in the league and, with the added advantage of a game in hand over Chelsea and Liverpool, they look increasingly sure of a third straight English title.
Newcastle’s caretaker boss Chris Hughton defended Taylor for the robust elbow-first challenge that left Ronaldo clutching his face shortly before the interval, earning the defender a caution.
Angry United skipper Rio Ferdinand had to be held back from remonstrating with the England Under-21 international as emotions ran high.
But Hughton defended Taylor. "Ronaldo’s gone past Steven and Steven was probably a little bit head-strong and in his endeavours to pull him back, he catches him on the shoulder and that’s all it was," he said.
"Anybody who watches the incident again would see that’s what happened. Steven’s a player of high energy and enthusiasm and that’s how we expect him to play."
Sir Alex Ferguson preferred to pay tribute to Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney after the strike duo combined to inspire United’s come-from behind win — their sixth in seven unbeaten visits to St James Park.
Rooney scored on the turn from the edge of the box to cancel out Peter Lovenkrands’ early opener after an uncharacteristic mistake by Edwin Van der Sar saw the keeper’s 14-game run without conceding a goal finally come to an end.
Berbatov struck the winner, his 13th goal of the season to put him two behind Rooney in the scoring charts, shortly after half-time following a mistake by Newcastle’s Ryan Taylor.
United remain on course for a haul of five trophies and Ferguson, who now turns his attention to Saturday’s FA Cup sixth round trip to Fulham, said: "We got a break for our second goal after Berbatov finished well. Wayne Rooney has a great record against Newcastle so if anyone was going to score against them, it was him."
Ferguson admits the leaders rode their luck a little in the wake of Lovenkrands’s goal, and the Scot added: "Newcastle were pumped up for it because it was a massive game for them. We expected that so coming back from a goal down to win is a good result.
"I must say we’ve played better football and we were careless in our passing at times but we’ve got to be pleased with the result.
"Newcastle might have been a bit lucky with the goal because Edwin made a mess of it and we could have gone two down when Obafemi Martins went close shortly afterwards, it was a hairy spell for us.
"Edwin would rather not something like that happen but it was going to happen sometime and it’s out of the way now."
Newcastle are in serious relegation trouble after just one victory in 10 league games. They’ve failed to win at home for more than two months which leaves them one point above the drop zone in 16th.
Hughton admitted: "It’s a very disappointed changing room because we felt we could get something. In the form Manchester United were in we took the game to them and took the lead and came very close to a second.
"We put on a spirited performance but it leaves us in a fight at the wrong end of the table and it’s going to be a fight that takes us through to the last few weeks of the season.
"We’re at the stage of the season where we need to be putting points on the board and I feel we deserved to get something from the game. If we play like that for the remaining 10 games I think we can stay up."