London: Dimitar Berbatov scored five goals to send Manchester United roaring back to the top of the Premier League with a 7-1 rout of Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The Bulgarian, eclipsing team mate Wayne Rooney in the England striker’s first league start since the beginning of October, put in a five-star performance after wrapping up his hat-trick two minutes after the break.
Under increasing flak for a scoring drought extending back to September, Berbatov was only the fourth player to score five in a single game in the Premier League.
In the absence of champions Chelsea, who can reclaim top spot at Newcastle United on Sunday, Arsenal enjoyed a brief spell in first place after beating Aston Villa 4-2 in the early match.
United, now unbeaten for 29 games in all competitions, have 31 points from 15 games to second-placed Arsenal’s 29.
Carlo Ancelotti’s misfiring Chelsea, who have lost three of their last four Premier League encounters, slipped to third overall with 28 points from 14.
Manchester City, held 1-1 at Stoke City after conceding a late equaliser, stayed fourth on 26 points.
West Ham United remained bottom despite a 3-1 home win over another relegation-threatened side, Wigan Athletic, after fellow strugglers Wolverhampton Wanderers overcame Sunderland 3-2.
Berbatov wasted no time getting on the scoresheet at Old Trafford, taking his first goal from close range in the second minute and his second in the 27th before notching a third in the 47th. He made it four in the 62nd and five eight minutes later.
“We’ve been waiting for that performance for weeks,” said United manager Alex Ferguson. “We kept saying that our rhythm and tempo has not been good enough in the last few weeks but today it was. We found it.”
The only other player to manage five for United in Ferguson’s time as manager was Andy Cole and the Scot was quick to praise Berbatov and the team effort.
“There was some great football attached to those goals and getting off the mark early I think helped him (Berbatov) because he hadn’t scored for 10 games,” he told Sky Sports. “And that does prey on strikers’ minds because that’s the way they are.”
South Korean forward Park Ji-sung had made it 2-0 in the 23rd while Nani scored United’s fifth in the 48th with Blackburn, taken over this month by Indian poultry giant Venky’s, getting a roasting.
Chris Samba scored a late consolation goal with a header seven minutes from time.
Arsenal, still smarting from their 3-2 home defeat by North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur last weekend and a 2-0 Champions League loss at Braga in midweek, eased the pain of those results with victory at Villa Park.
Arsenal went in 2-0 ahead at halftime but then allowed Villa back into the game, youngster Ciaran Clark scoring twice to set up a nervy final 20 minutes with Arsenal leading 3-2.
Marouane Chamakh had scored their third while teenage midfielder Jack Wilshere made it 4-2 deep into stoppage time when he headed in his first league goal for Arsenal.
West Bromwich Albion returned to form by trouncing Everton 4-1 at Goodison Park while Bolton Wanderers recovered from two goals down to draw 2-2 at home to Blackpool.