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Paying the penalty

A second penalty and fine goal from Nani turned the game on its head and inflicted an ill-deserved 3-1 defeat at United after Ledley King's header stunned Old Trafford in the early afternoon kick-off on Saturday.

A second penalty and fine goal from Nani turned the game on its head and inflicted an ill-deserved 3-1 defeat at United after Ledley King's header stunned Old Trafford in the early afternoon kick-off on Saturday.

It was certainly a case of paying the penalty - that is five in our last two Premier League away fixtures - the second one quashing optimism within the team and among the travelling army of fans that a third win against a top three team was perhaps on the cards.

The first 10 minutes was a sizing up period, a little bit of jostling for territory and testing systems.

Harry Redknapp stuck with a classical 4-2-2 with David Bentley and Luka Modric supplying the width and the equally adventurous Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Gareth Bale providing willing support from the full-back positions.

The approach was cautious and patient, but possession was precise and promising.

United began to exert some pressure from this point on, gradually taking control of proceedings and slowly rousing the Old Trafford crowd out of its slumber. As the away team we were not committing numbers forward at speed and this enabled the home team to try and enforce their own increased tempo when the ball was won back.

United clicked up a gear just before the half hour mark when a Nani run into the the right hand side of the area resulted in a bouncing low centre that deceived Bale in a central position. Dimitar Berbatov looked set to pull the trigger when Ledley King stooped, stretched out a leg and executed a vital interception.

Antonio Valencia then worked Heurelho Gomes for the first time with a fierce low drive that the Brazilian saved smartly to his right.

Bentley embarked on a mazy dribble that took a rash and illegal challenge by Nani to halt at the top corner of the area. The Portuguese was booked and Bale's radar was askew in attempting to pick out the top corner from the resulting free-kick. A Modric spin and shot inside the area did not troublke Edwin van der Sar.

Berbatov was sharp and not too far away when he turned on the edge of the area after taking down a Rafael cross four minutes before the break before smashing over the bar and jumping up and down in frustration.

There was half a chance in the opening moments of the second half when Bentley lifted the ball in the direction of Jermain Defoe who, in turn, picked out Roman Pavlyuchenko, but the Russian was thwarted near goal by the intervention of Patrice Evra.

There could have been a goal on 52 minutes when an Evra cross was met by the head of Berbatov and, as the ball bounced across goal, the leg of Darren Fletcher was not far off making a connection.

Tom Huddlestone then worked van der Sar low to his left with a meaty drive before, on 56 minutes, Assou-Ekotto chopped down Evra inside the area after a fine run from Berbatov and Mr Mariner had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Ryan Giggs made no mistake to Gomes' right.

It was a real pity because United had been contained so effectively up to this point and it then took a last-ditch lunge by Johnny Evans to take the ball off the toes of Bentley as he was about to shoot after an Assou-Ekotto surge forward.

With 25 minutes remaining it was time for Aaron Lennon to make his first appearance of the year with Bentley making way. The change resulted in Wilson Palacios switching to right back, Assou-Ekotto crossing to left, Modric moving inside and Bale pushing up to left midfield.

The tempo and urgency was increased and with 70 minutes on the clock an outswinging corner from Bale was nodded home by Ledley King, who was also proving a magnificent presence at the back once again. His header steered beyond the stranded van der Sar and the haphazard post stewardship of Rafael.

Lennon began to torment substitute John O'Shea and were one fierce low cross not grabbed by van der Sar, Pavlyuchenko was lurking in wait.

With 10 minutes left United seized the lead again when the substitute Macheda slipped in Nani on a dash into the area, the winger advancing and dinking the ball beyond the advancing Gomes and into the net. It was a finely worked goal.

Four minutes later and Nani was off on another surge and Palacios was clumsy in his attempt to de-rail his run, leading to the award of another penalty. Giggs netted again, this time to the other side.

It was not a fitting or deserved conclusion to the game, one in which the initiative was grabbed after the equalising goal but not capitalised on and a moment of fine skill from Nani turned the tide.