Rooney takes step on road to redemption
Manchester United 1
WAYNE ROONEY took his first step on the road to redemption at Manchester United by all but confirming top spot in Group C for Alex Ferguson's team with an 86th-minute penalty to seal victory against Rangers last night.
Rooney, back in the fold and back in the team following his contract dispute and week-long training regime in the United States, had struggled to make an impact against the Scottish champions, missing chances and failing to threaten.
But by converting from the spot following Steven Naismith's foul on Fabio da Silva, Rooney scored his first goal since threatening to leave United last month. He still has some way to go before he can think about reclaiming his crown as the Prince of Old Trafford, but this late winner is a start.
If nothing else, Rooney ensured that United will secure top spot by avoiding a two-goal defeat against Valencia at Old Trafford next month.
When United last visited this corner of Glasgow in October 2003, Ferguson's insistence that his team must first silence the Ibrox bearpit was answered with Phil Neville's fifthminute goal in a 1-0 victory.
But if Ferguson had delivered the same pre-match instruction on this occasion, he had no need.
Rather than being subjected to a hostile welcome, United trooped out to a muted stadium, which appeared to be cloaked in an air of resignation and acceptance that Walter Smith's team had little chance of emulating Celtic's 2006 victory over Ferguson's men. The home side's five-man back-line highlighted their limited ambition, and the goading banner which read ‘Ibrox – Theatre of Champions' rang hollow.
Rangers might be kings of their patch, but United, with Rooney starting his first game for two months, were afforded acres of space. Not for the first time this season, however, United dominated possession and ended up with precious little to show for it.
At times, Rangers could not get close to Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick as they sprayed the ball around, but goalkeeper Allan McGregor was barely troubled in the opening period.
The Scotland international did not have to move to catch Dimitar Berbatov's seventh-minute header, and Nani blazed over the bar on 38 minutes after he had been teed up by Carrick inside the area.
Rooney, booed vociferously by the Rangers supporters, looked way short of his best, despite a glancing header from Fabio's 40th-minute cross which bounced off the top of McGregor's crossbar.
Rangers forward Kenny Miller wasted the best chance of the first half when he inexplicably headed wide from six yards after Kirk Broadfoot had directed Steven Davis' free-kick into his path.
Miller was denied by the legs of goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar on 42 minutes after he sprung the offside trap before attempting to score from a tight angle.
Miller's misses summed up a dreadful first half and United's frustrations were summed up by the sight of an increasingly disgruntled Berbatov berating every misplaced pass from his team-mates.
United began the second half with more purpose, though, and they carved out three clear opportunities before the hour mark.
Ryan Giggs, who had been subdued on his first appearance since October following a hamstring injury, picked out Berbatov with a pinpoint cross eight minutes into the second period.
But the Bulgarian showed just why he has failed to score since his hat-trick against Liverpool nine weeks ago by slicing his attempted volley high over the bar.
Two minutes later, McGregor was forced into his first real save of the game when he denied Carrick after the United midfielder had been released following neat interplay between Rooney and Berbatov.
It was a clear chance and Carrick should have done better, but McGregor's block was impressive nonetheless.
McGregor has been linked with a move to Old Trafford in recent weeks, but that appears unlikely with Ferguson confirming on Tuesday that United are close to concluding a £4m deal for Aalesund's Denmark international Anders Lindegaard.
But the Rangers No 1 certainly enhanced his reputation and he produced another save to keep the home side on level terms when he rebuffed Berbatov's crisply struck shot on 59 minutes.
United's strong start to the second half ran out of steam until Rooney's penalty confirmed victory. However, he has yet to score from open play for United this season.
Penalties are one thing, but he needs to come up with more than that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)