Tuesday 19 September 2017

Fired-up Rooney matches goals record as United stroll through

Manchester United 4 Reading 0

Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his 249th Manchester United goal to equal Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record for the club. Photo: PA
Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his 249th Manchester United goal to equal Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record for the club. Photo: PA

The first two players to mob Wayne Rooney were Michael Carrick and Ashley Young, who have known the turbulence of his last few years more than most, and even Alex Ferguson was out of his seat and up on his feet.

Manchester United have plunged into ordinariness since Ferguson stepped away, but the sight of Rooney equalling Bobby Charlton's record as United's all-time top goal-scorer restored the stuff of legends to the place they are still calling the Theatre of Dreams.

Manchester United's Bastian SchweinsteigerReading's John Swift battle for the ball. Photo: PA
Manchester United's Bastian SchweinsteigerReading's John Swift battle for the ball. Photo: PA

And Bobby? "Yes!" he mouthed, just wanting - always wanting - to see his old team score a goal.

All told, a moment to dignify the great stadium, which left Rooney staring appreciatively to the heavens as he always does on such occasions.

He is to be respected for his approach to the FA Cup third round occasion as much as the tally of 249 goals - a total which United's official statistician Cliff Butler insists equals the record, since Charlton's two strikes against Verona in the Anglo-Italian Cup don't count, as they were not scored in first class competition.

Lesser players would have withdrawn their goodwill, having been removed to the wrong side of Jose Mourinho's starting XI of choice, as Rooney has in a season when he has still scored only four goals.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford pulls away from Reading's Joey Van der Berg. Photo: Reuters
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford pulls away from Reading's Joey Van der Berg. Photo: Reuters

But he did not see this match as anything but an opportunity.

There was a moment, after a clash of heads held up play in the second half, when Rooney arrived on the nearside touchline and with United 2-0, could have idled there. But when a civil conversation with Jose Mourinho had quickly run its course, he engaged in animated talk with Daley Blind about where the defender might make runs. He looked up for it. He looked like he has lost weight. And he was simply too good - substantially too good - for Jaap Stam's Reading to cope with.

Stam's determination that his team would play their own way looked like naivety, as his full-backs operated so wide, leaving the central three of the five-man back line to be run asunder and cut apart by the searching balls which frequently bisected them.

Stam had gambled on timing defender Paul McShane's hand operation so that he missed this game, rather than two Championship matches, and said he and the players had discussed not standing off United's forwards. If so, they ignored him - from the 33rd second, when they dropped back to allow Marcus Rashford an arced shot narrowly wide.

The defenders, frankly, did not have the faintest idea where United runs were coming from at times, in a defensive display that would have shamed Stam in his playing days. Joey van den Berg, the central defender Stam brought in from Dutch side SC Heerenveen, was led a merry dance by Rashford, whom he could not touch.

Rooney scented the record when Liam Moore misjudged a long ball from Blind and let him get a run in after merely two minutes. Ali al-Habsi, without whom this could have been a deeply embarrassing scoreline, dropped into the first of half-a-dozen sharp saves.

The history-equalling goal from a Juan Mata cross - in off Rooney's knee - was just six minutes coming. The second - Rooney at the intersection of a one-two with Anthony Martial from which the Frenchman slotted home through another retreating defender's legs - was despatched inside 15.

The only source of Jose Mourinho concern was the departure from the field of Marcos Rojo shortly after the second goal, with left sock rolled down, to be replaced by Phil Jones. The manager would not reveal how serious the muscular injury is, last night.

Mourinho was more transparent in his frustration with Rashford at times, as his first-half finishing was indifferent. He found the side netting after rounding Al-Habsi just before the half hour with Reading's rearguard in another futile, backpedalling pursuit. Joey van der Berg made a vital challenge to deter him after the break.

Reading at least found some possession by then, though their solitary chance vanished when Moore failed to make any contact on a cross from the left, when just a touch would have sent it in from five yards out.

Moore aided both United's second-half goals. He hopelessly missed Michael Carrick's long right-footed through pass, allowing Rashford to seize it and run through and slide the ball in. Then his back pass put Al-Habsi under pressure, leading the goalkeeper to miss his clearance entirely and watch the ball to roll under his foot, for Rashford to covert again.

Having waited 44 days to equal the record, Rooney may reflect that he will never get a better chance to surpass it. He arrived fractionally too late for a Rashford cross and watched his pounced effort from one rebound blocked. Yet he wears the look of man for whom, as night follows day, the next chance will soon come.

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