Cristiano Ronaldo’s 13th goal of the season helped Manchester United close in on the Premier League’s top four with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Norwich.
The Portugal international scored a penalty with quarter of an hour left in Norfolk to give Ralf Rangnick a second victory since his arrival and extend the Red Devils’ unbeaten run to six games following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking.
It was harsh on Norwich who had their chances and pushed the visitors hard but remain bottom while United are level on points with fourth-placed West Ham.
Former RB Leipzig boss Rangnick kept faith with the starting XI which beat Crystal Palace in his first match last weekend, but it was a different story for the hosts who made five changes from the defeat at Tottenham.
A combination of Covid-19 issues and injuries meant Dean Smith put out a depleted side which, after a bright start, almost conceded in the 14th minute.
United’s first attack saw them win a free-kick on the edge of the area and Alex Telles nearly justified his decision to take the set-piece with a curling deflected effort that hit the crossbar.
Canaries manager Smith was given another problem shortly afterwards when captain Grant Hanley sustained an injury to his left shoulder.
Replacement Jacob Sorensen, traditionally a midfielder, fared well in his first duel against Ronaldo but the Portuguese superstar squandered an excellent opportunity to open the scoring in the 37th minute.
Scott McTominay carried the ball forward and played in Ronaldo before United’s number seven faked to shoot, checked back once more and then saw Tim Krul equal to his left-footed strike from 12 yards.
The Dutch goalkeeper was stretched more on the stroke of half-time but produced a wonderful finger-tip save to thwart Harry Maguire’s header and keep the game goalless.
Rangnick sent his side out early for the second period as the wet weather worsened at Carrow Road.
It failed to have the desired effect, with Przemyslaw Placheta testing David De Gea for the first time with a tame toe-poked effort 52 seconds after the restart.
While that was routine for United’s custodian, he showed his class just prior to the hour mark when Teemu Pukki worked a yard of space and let fly from 20 yards, only to see the Spaniard brilliantly push his rising effort over.
Buoyed by those openings, Norwich built up a sustained period of pressure and forced four corners in quick succession but the visitors survived and Rangnick turned to his bench with 67 minutes played.
Midweek goalscorer Mason Greenwood was summoned, but it was the experience of Ronaldo that made the difference.
Canaries right-back Max Aarons dragged the United forward to the floor from McTominay’s cross and referee Darren England pointed to the spot.
Ronaldo sent Krul the wrong way for his 13th goal of the campaign but the drama was not over there.
De Gea was immediately required to keep out Ozan Kabak’s header and substitute Eric Bailly, on for Victor Lindelof after he complained of chest issues, deflected Billy Gilmour’s goal-bound effort wide to deny the hosts a late equaliser.
Defeat keeps Norwich rooted to the bottom of the table before Smith’s old side Aston Villa visit on Tuesday and United will head to Brentford on the same evening after a third straight league victory.