Aston Villa 0 Manchester Utd 2: Rooney spices up Capello's first meal

England manager given food for thought as striker comes on to liven up a meandering match
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The Independent Football

It was hardly a feast to set before the new England manager but Fabio Capello, starting work two days early, was able to snack on a tasty couple of morsels from Wayne Rooney and an impressive defensive performance by Rio Ferdinand as Manchester United achieved their usual victory over Aston Villa in an unusually poor game. Rooney appeared as a substitute for the last 20 minutes, bringing the attacking vim that United had for once lacked; he began both moves that brought the goals and finished the second as well for good measure.

Capello had nine Englishmen to watch from the start, six in the home team. Gabriel Agbonlahor, strongly tipped to win a place in the new man's first squad next month, and Ashley Young were both bright early on but faded, like their team. Gareth Barry and Nigel Reo-Coker had their moments without ever taking a grip on the midfield and Scott Carson in goal was not at his best even on an undemanding day. For United, Ferdinand defended as solidly as he has done all season alongside Nemanja Vidic apart from a sloppy last 15 minutes at West Ham recently. Wes Brown eventually subdued Young, and Michael Carrick passed the ball sensibly without penetration.

Villa hoped the physical presence of John Carew, who missed the 4-1 home defeat by United three months ago, would enable them to make the game a closer contest. But he received so little joy from United's central defenders that Edwin van der Sar, returning in goal, was not required to make a save. So the day turned into a huge anti-climax for the home team, who have now lost in the third round of the Cup for six of the past seven seasons.

With Carlos Tevez injured and neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Ryan Giggs at his best, the visitors were also below par going forward, and for 44 minutes there was barely a sniff of a goal.

Stilian Petrov sent a 30-yard drive over the angle of crossbar and post early on and Carew hit the side-netting but not until just before the interval was either keeper in real danger. Then Carson failed to hold Ronaldo's low drive, spilling the ball to Giggs, who, despite being unmarked only seven yards out, jabbed a hurried effort well wide.

It would hardly have been a surprise to see Rooney appear for the second half, but Sir Alex Ferguson, back on touchline duty after an enforced spell confined to the stands, left things as they were and saw his team dominate for 20 minutes. But again chances were few and midway through the half, as Villa started to take the game to the opposition again, Rooney replaced the ineffective Ji-Sung Park. In a stadium 10,000 short of capacity TV coverage not helping United's followers were the ones making a noise, though there was not much to shout about. Not until Reo-Coker broke down the right and fed Young for a shot pulled well wide did the home fans raise a roar.

Rooney, thankfully, enlivened proceedings, sending Ronaldo away with a glorious pass but sidefooting the return over the bar. He then fed Anderson, who located Giggs in the penalty area. The Welshman atoned for his earlier miss with an unplayable low cross to the far post, where Ronaldo slid in ahead of Wilfred Bouma to take his tally to a remarable 19 goals this season. If only he were English, Capello must have thought. Rooney is, and he finished smartly after he had found Ronaldo with a crossfield pass and the winger's shot was deflected to him.

After all the dross that went before, Carrick might have made it three goals in the last nine minutes, but Carson denied him with a double save. Capello will hope for better entertainment at Luton's tie with Liverpool today. Ferguson, who praised United's supporters, his team's defending and Rooney, said he would now like to play Peterborough, managed by his son Darren.