Rooney on the money for United
MANCHESTER UNITED 4
HULL CITY 0
It takes something extraordinary to steal the focus from a crowd-pleaser who scores four times to put his team top of the Premier League, but the Glazers managed it at Old Trafford yesterday, where Manchester United's American owners were the fans' prime concern.
Wayne Rooney rattled in a four-timer to take his tally for the season to 19 goals in 21 league matches, but the Stretford End spent the afternoon abusing the absentee landlords who have plunged the club into debt to the tune of £716m.
While the Accringtons and Prestons were enjoying their Andy Warhol moments elsewhere, United took advantage of their enforced absence from the FA Cup to regain pole position in the league table, but there were empty seats at the Theatre of Dreams for once, and a seditious atmosphere for all but the last 11 minutes, when Rooney was tucking away goals number two, three and four.
By way of protest, fans wore the green and gold shirt of the Newton Heath club, which gave birth to Manchester United, and chorused 'We love United, we hate the Glazers' throughout. Sensing what was in the air, Alex Ferguson used his programme notes to appeal for unity, to no avail.
The old boy is none too happy himself, it seems, and wrote: "I'm not slow to express disapproval myself -- even in the boardroom."
Both teams arrived in need of an encouraging result, but only one was ever going to get it. United have endured a protracted attack of the hiccups lately, losing four of their previous nine games, two of them at home, but the malaise would have had to become a full-blown seizure to lose to opponents as poor as Hull. Ferguson sought a return to the defensive security they have been lacking by recalling Rio Ferdinand, who had been hors de combat for fully three months, but this was hardly a test for the England man.
United's manager was able to rest Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov, Antonio Valencia and Michael Carrick in the knowledge that any XI he put out was likely to be good enough against Phil Brown's relegation strugglers, and the outcome was never really in doubt from the eighth minute, when Rooney opened the scoring after Boaz Myhill had made a pig's ear of Paul Scholes's 25-yarder. Myhill was man of the match against Tottenham last week, but was less impressive here, fumbling a Nani free-kick against his crossbar to facilitate Rooney's second, which was delayed until the 82nd minute.
The England striker's third was a header, from Nani's cross and the fourth, fired in from 12 yards, was cleverly set up by Berbatov, on as substitute.
"The difference this season is that I've consciously been getting in the box more and trying to put myself in goalscoring situations," said Rooney.
In arithmetical terms, at least, Hull were still in it until eight minutes from the end of normal time, and Kamel Ghilas was desperately close to burgling an equaliser on his introduction from the bench. Then the roof fell in for Brown and his team, with Rooney slipping into overdrive to become the first United player since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer against Everton a little over a decade ago to score four in a game.
Ferguson paid lip service to the way Hull had been "difficult to break down", but the reality was that the margin would have been even wider had Michael Owen, given a rare start, approached the effectiveness he needs to recover if he is to challenge for that World Cup place. As some of us seem to have been saying all season, the Owen of old would have filled his boots here.
The easy part done, local attention turns to the resumption of hostilities between the Mancunian neighbours in Wednesday's decisive second leg of their combustible Carling Cup semi-final.
Rooney is up for it; City beware.