Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rooney spearheads United's stroll in the park

Manchester Utd 4
Fulham 1

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (left) celebrates scoring their second goal of the game with team-mates
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (left) celebrates scoring their second goal of the game with team-mates

Jamie Jackson

David de Gea retained his starting berth but Wayne Rooney lost his role as the Manchester United penalty taker. These were the main lines out of what was the calmest of passages into today's FA Cup fifth-round draw as the 11-times winners could hope for.

The tie felt over as early as the 127 seconds United required to strike, though it was not until Javier Hernandez's 66th-minute finish that made it 4-0 did the scoreline reflect the one-way traffic.

When the team sheet dropped, United's XI showed six changes though De Gea was not one following criticism of his display at Tottenham Hotspur, and he now moves on to Wednesday's league game here against Southampton.

A mild evening had the best of beginnings for the home side when Alex Ferguson's band poured forward and registered from their opening move.

On 40 seconds, Wayne Rooney's effort was deflected for a corner. When the Liverpudlian aimed this in from the left quadrant, Aaron Hughes used his hand to defend the ball. He was under pressure from Chris Smalling, but it was no excuse. Mark Clattenburg pointed to the spot and with Rooney having missed 10 penalties now for the club, including one in the 1-0 replay win over West Ham, the gaze fixed on who might step up.

In a moment it became clear that Rooney had been stood down for Ryan Giggs, who slotted to the right of Mark Schwarzer despite the goalkeeper getting a firm hand to the ball.

There had been a hint of the decision in Ferguson's notes. "You can certainly criticise Wayne as that [against West Ham] was his 10th miss from the spot, but at the same time I must point out that missing a penalty doesn't faze him – other players with different temperaments could go to pieces. We will really have to up our game in this area," he wrote.

As entries into this forbidding arena go, conceding after two minutes could not have gone much worse for Fulham.

Their disarray lingered throughout the opening period. Bryan Ruiz sent an errant pass across midfield which found only Giggs, Steve Sidwell turned down a couple of blind alleys before giving up the ball and, later, having pinned United on their heels, Ruiz's radar was again awry as he left Dimitar Berbatov howling in frustration with another bad ball.

Inevitably, the Cottagers' finest moment involved the Bulgarian. Berbatov had received a warm cheer from the United support before kick-off and the volleyed-control of a ball before playing in Sascha Riether on 32 minutes was plucked straight from the archive of his time here.

While the full-back's subsequent shot blazed past De Gea's right post, by half-time it was only 1-0 despite United's dominance and Ferguson might have told his gang they should have already killed the tie off.

They should also have had a second penalty when Giggs' 21st-minute pass over the top clearly hit the arm of Damien Duff, who had stuck it out to intercept the ball. But Clattenburg gave only the corner.

If Ferguson ordered his team to be more ruthless the next seven minutes proved they listened as the lead stretched to 3-0.

First, an Anderson pass to Rooney along the inside channel was turned by his right boot onto the left before he blasted home a strike reminiscent of the striker's finishing at Euro 2004.

Seconds later, Rooney was the creator. He began the move by switching play from the left to Nani down right. The Portuguese's attempt to find Hernandez was repelled and Rooney, who had continued running, threaded the ball to the Mexican, who scored.

For Ferguson, complete satisfaction was thwarted when Hughes completed his topsy-turvy outing – it was also his deflection that beat Schwarzer for Hernandez's second – by heading home unmarked from a Giorgos Karagounis late corner.

Rooney was the man detailed to pick up the defender but, as with his spot-kick duties at least for the time being, he lost this bit of the plot.


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