Rooney takes care of United's business
Manchester United 4
Hull City 0
Forget the emphatic scoreline and Manchester United's ascent to the summit of the Premier League. This was, after all, an FA Cup weekend when United's title rivals were otherwise engaged.
Regardless of the ruthless dismantling of Hull City, when the outcome of this season is reached, it will be Alex Ferguson's management of the three 'Rs' -- Rooney, Rio and rebellion -- that will ultimately decide whether the 2009/'10 campaign is viewed as the one during which United made history for all the right reasons by claiming an unprecedented fourth successive championship, or the year the wheels began to come off at Old Trafford.
On Saturday, as Hull were brushed aside by Rooney's first four-goal display as a professional, there was little to separate the England forward's impact from that of the returning Rio Ferdinand and the rebellious air within the stadium.
Rooney's performance quite rightly topped the bill, but the presence of Ferdinand at the heart of United's back-four, three months after succumbing to a persistent back injury, did not go unnoticed.
Yet neither did the discord on the Stretford End which, by the end of the game, had spread to Old Trafford's more restrained sections.
Despite Ferguson's pre-match call for unity in his programme notes, prompted by growing supporter anger towards the club's owners, the Glazer family, his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Blunt chants about the Glazers, whose £500m bond issue aimed at alleviating United's £716.5m debt has proved successful, were as prevalent as the green-and-gold scarves and shirts -- the colours of United's forerunner, Newton Heath -- worn by supporters as a symbol of their antipathy towards the Americans.
On the issue of the club's financial situation, it is clear that Ferguson and a vocal section of the club's supporters hold conflicting opinions. But while the fans made their point, Ferguson's players made the manager's for him by swatting the revolt aside to take care of business on the pitch.
Rooney and Ferdinand were the architects of United's victory, but they were impressively assisted by the much-maligned Portuguese winger, Nani, and Michael Owen, making only his fifth start of the season.
Owen's link play with Rooney suggested that Ferguson might need to rethink his theory that the two forwards are incompatible.
Owen's presence created space for Rooney and relieved the goalscoring burden on the 24-year-old.
The pair have seen off better defenders than Hull's Paul McShane and Anthony Gardner in their time and it showed.
Phil Brown, the Hull manager, was full of praise for Rooney, saying: "It would be great to manage Wayne Rooney. The lad just wants to play football and he has that boyish enthusiasm that you want from every player.
"We have conceded seven goals in two games against Manchester United and Wayne has got five of them. His movement is fantastic and his attitude is brilliant.
"But he wasn't the only difference. It was United's passing and movement.
"The difference in the end was not only Wayne Rooney," Brown continued. "He is clearly one of the best strikers in the world, though, and that bodes well for England."
Rooney's form could prove a double-edged sword for England manager Fabio Capello. His four goals against Hull made it 21 for club and country this season. Ferguson had toyed with resting him for this game, yet imagine what would have happened had he done so?
That is Ferguson's problem. Just as he must nurse Ferdinand -- who faces an FA probe following an alleged clash with Craig Fagan -- through the forthcoming months to avoid a recurrence of his back injury, he must also fear overworking Rooney before the season reaches its decisive stage.
On this form, he cannot rest him. Good news for United, but bad news for England if Rooney flies to South Africa in need of a holiday rather than a month-long assault on the World Cup.
His goals against Hull summed up his every attribute. His first was a poacher's strike and his second was a brutal strike past Boaz Myhill from Darron Gibson's pass.
A glancing header from Nani's cross completed the hat-trick before he scored his fourth -- the first United player to hit four in a game since Carlos Tevez against Blackburn in December 2008 -- by fooling Myhill with a low shot into the bottom corner in stoppage time.
Not even Cristiano Ronaldo managed four goals in a game for United, but Ferguson insists it would be wrong to claim Rooney was now emerging from Ronaldo's shadow.
The United boss said: "I don't think that comes into it at all -- being the main man now that Ronaldo has gone -- I think he was always the main man.
"He will want to develop himself as a scorer, but he has had some terrific finishes today." (©Daily Telegraph, London)