The 100th and 101st goals of Cristiano Ronaldo's eventful Manchester United career were the highlights of their 5-0 defeat of Stoke City at Old Trafford. Despite the brace, it was a trying afternoon for the Portuguese star, who looked frustrated at times.
Ultimately, however, Ronaldo made a telling impact, not only scoring the opening goal but also setting up the second for Michael Carrick on the stroke of half-time. For good measure, he curled in the final United goal in the 89th minute with one of his trademark, unerring free-kicks into the bottom right-hand corner from 20 yards.
Dimitar Berbatov added a third and substitute Danny Welbeck scored his first for the club, although the Red Devils missed the opportunity to make up even more ground on Chelsea in the goal difference department.
Yet the afternoon will be remembered for Ronaldo's impressive landmark, one which came on his 208th start for United. During a summer in which he seemed keen to move to Real Madrid, it would have taken a brave man to gamble upon him scoring the eight goals required to take his career tally to the century mark so early into the campaign.
Amdy Faye presented Ronaldo with precisely that chance, tripping Carlos Tevez 25 yards out early in the game, and the Portuguese winger struck a magnificent effort which Thomas Sorensen misjudged badly on its way into his goal. The former Sporting player celebrated enthusiastically, making a 100 gesture.
Park Ji-Sung came close to doubling United's lead with a 20-yard shot, which was smothered by Sorensen, and was then denied by the goalkeeper when he chased a through ball. But Stoke's hard work, not to mention the much-publicised long throw-ins of Rory Delap, hinted that an equaliser might be possible. After 11 minutes, a throw almost brought Stoke level as John O'Shea headed towards his own goal, but Edwin van der Sar skilfully turned the ball on to the crossbar.
It was against this backdrop that Ronaldo's frustrations grew, the player blowing kisses sarcastically at the Stoke fans and then gesturing wildly at them after he set up his team's second goal. It was the perfect response from Ronaldo, with the half drawing to a close, as he passed to Carrick, who made space for himself and buried a superb 15-yard shot.
The timing of the second goal was a cruel blow to Stoke and was surely the end of the game as a meaningful contest. Berbatov, underwhelming in the first half, removed all lingering doubt four minutes after the restart with his sixth goal of the season.
It came from a penetrating pass from the understated, but impressive, Darren Fletcher, which permitted Carlos Tevez to cross to the near post. There, Berbatov controlled the ball with an audacious back-heel, then shot past Sorensen from eight yards.
As with so many of these Old Trafford affairs, it was now a question of how many. Ronaldo's stinging cross-shot was kept out, one-armed, by Sorensen before the United man unleashed a wicked 35-yard free-kick which the keeper again parried.
By the time Tevez's shot was blocked by Sorensen, the keeper wore a shell-shocked appearance. United spurned numerous chances as time wore down, Ronaldo and Manucho combining to squander one opening which looked easier to convert.
But six minutes from time, the unmarked Welbeck added to the celebratory air of the afternoon with a stunning 25-yard shot which soared into the roof of the Stoke goal, before the scoring was concluded in the final minute by Ronaldo.