MANCHESTER // Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Dimitar Berbatov after Manchester United's record signing ended a 10-game run without a goal by becoming only the fourth player in Premier League history to score five in a game.
The record haul yesterday helped United to a 7-1 rout of Blackburn Rovers, which swept them to the top of the table for the first time this season.
For Berbatov, who signed for £30.75 million (Dh176m) two years ago, it provided a confidence boost after he did not even make the squad for last weekend's triumph over Wigan Athletic.
"It was a fantastic achievement," Ferguson said. "He could have scored six, too, because Paul Robinson made a fantastic save near the end. When strikers are not scoring they don't think they are doing their job right. That has always been the case. Today it came back."
Berbatov follows former United striker Andrew Cole, Alan Shearer and Jermain Defoe as men who have netted five in a game since the league was formed in 1992. It took the Bulgarian to 11 league goals for the season and completed United's first seven-goal haul since the defeat of Roma three years ago in the Champions Legaue.
More importantly, it sent them powering to the top of the table for the first time this season, giving a significant boost to their goal difference, as well, at the start of a month that includes meetings with both Arsenal and Chelsea in a potentially pivotal seven-day December period.
Seven days ago, Ferguson declined to come up with a plausible reason for omitting Berbatov from the squad against Wigan, stating only that he had been left out.
In midweek came an admission from the United manager that he was responsible for changing his team formation too much, leading to a dip in form by the Bulgarian, who had carried his side through the difficult early weeks of the campaign, during Wayne Rooney's malaise. So, Rooney himself was not the only one to be glad he is back.
"I can't believe it. I scored five in a game, but it happened," Berbatov said. "I have scored that many before but it was a long time ago, back home in Bulgaria. Today I did it in the Premier League. To stand next to people like Cole and Shearer is a great honour."
It took Berbatov just 71 seconds to open his account, adding another before the break and then scoring three more times after the restart.
"The first goal was the most important," he said. "It gives you the confidence to play. As a striker, people do tend only to look at the goals you score. I am more concerned with how I play but today was all about goals for me."
* Press Association