Wayne Rooney declared himself ready to go "on a goalscoring run" last night after his nerveless late penalty against Rangers sealed a convincing comeback display as well as Manchester United's place in the Champions League knock-out stage.
Rooney looked his fittest all season in his first start since securing a new contract, before defying the Ibrox faithful – who had booed his every touch – by stepping up to strike an impeccable 87th-minute spot-kick and seal a 1-0 win. "I think he's never been short of courage and it was a fantastic penalty," Sir Alex Ferguson said of Rooney. "He's not had an easy night, he's missed a couple of chances, but that's what we expected."
Tottenham Hotspur felt the same euphoria, sealing qualification with a 3-0 home win over an injury-ravaged Werder Bremen, with goals from Younes Kaboul, Luka Modric and Peter Crouch. Spurs will top their group if they win at Twente in two weeks' time and United can do the same with a point at home to Valencia. Rangers must turn to the Europa League.
Rooney, who revealed before the game that he had spoken personally to the Glazer family to get the assurances he needed to sign his new contract, has still not scored in open play for United since the Champions League quarter-final first leg at Bayern Munich on 30 March, though he started last season relatively slowly, too. He had scored seven goals this time last season and went on to net 34. He said: "I am just delighted to be back playing again. I felt good. I felt fit throughout the game. Hopefully I can build on this performance and this goal and take it from there."
It was a 28th game unbeaten for a United side who have become only the second in Champions League history to keep five clean sheets in a group stage. Ferguson said he believes his prime striker still has "a rustiness in his game at the moment" but insisted that there were "no issues at all with the fans" despite the boos from some quarters which greeted his arrival as a substitute against Wigan Athletic on Saturday. "Every time he scores, he weds himself to the fans and the players," Ferguson insisted.
Rooney, who hit the bar in the first half and generally lifted United's passing tempo against Walter Smith's obdurate side, looked like a player replenished by his week away undergoing intensive training at the Nike HQ in Oregon. "I feel as though it has helped playing 90 minutes," he said. "When you have been out for a bit you generally feel a bit tired at the end. Today I felt good at the end. The week in America certainly helped me fitness wise."
The evening had begun with more of Rooney's pre-recorded interview with his club's in-house TV station, screened by ITV, in which he said he understood supporters' grievances. "Not all the fans are going to want to be singing my name all the time and not all are going to want to be cheering me all the time," Rooney said. "I fully accept and understand that but I have to go and prove to the fans that I'm here to stay and I want to work and win things at this club.
"Once I'd sat down with the manager and spoke with the owners, they told me how the club could move forward. In terms of any falling-out with the manager there's been no falling-out whatsoever."
The game might have been decided earlier had Dimitar Berbatov been given what looked a second-minute penalty. "It was a blatant penalty," said Ferguson, who questioned why one of the new Uefa fifth officials did not spot the infringement.
Smith said he now needed more resources to work with. "We need a hand. We are in a situation tonight where we basically only have teenagers left. If we don't get any help in the January transfer window then we could have a struggle again."Reuse content