The Rooney of old revealed itself not long before the hour. More's the pity that it was the Wayne Rooney who causes every fan with his interests at heart a sharp intake of breath at times. Gareth Barry had just conceded a counter attack which sent Elsad Zverotic skipping through the England midfield with Rooney in hot pursuit. The striker launched into one of those unbridled tackles which look like trouble – and almost always are.
Rooney's yellow card might have been worth it if the sudden energy burst was part of one of those energised displays in which he will turn up in the right-back's slot, thump a ball 50 yards and then hare after it. That mental image seems as distant a memory as a storming Rooney performance for England. Croatia at home over a year ago is the most recent that comes to mind and there has been one goal in 12 games since that September evening.
Rooney recently spoken of the personal "pain" he has been feeling in the throes of the two-week break from football which, in the case of Manchester United's games at Valencia and Sunderland, seems to have been compassionate leave rather than injury trouble.
The rather neglected point in that interview was that Rooney feels he is adapting to another new United system, behind Dimitar Berbatov rather than being the man up at the top which he so took to last season. The same went for the formation last night, with Rooney nestling behind Peter Crouch in a formation, reliant on wing play, which seemed correct for the obdurate Montenegran defence. If you can't go through them, go around them.
But when it came down to it, there was still so much missing from Rooney's game. The passing was often loose and inaccurate; the foraging for the ball which is so integral to his game, is still missing. When Glen Johnson crossed accurately as the game entered its last 20 minutes, Rooney's back-flicked header went ballooning up into the night sky. When he had managed to turn into some space soon afterwards and fasten on to the ball, the attentions of defender Miodrag Dzudovic and a fine right-handed save from Mladen Bozovic conspired to deny Rooney a goal.
There was another of the old Rooney moments clustered in amongst that late rally: the controlled pass out to Gareth Barry and sprint into the area to receive it back would have been divine, had Barry's return ball had been allowed to complete its trajectory to the 24-year-old's waiting boot. Instead, Zverotic headed clear.
There was also a smart save for Bozovic from Barry to make after Rooney had clambered high to head a ball which Kevin Davies helped on. Don't let the disappointment of England's limited creativity disguise the admirable defensive qualities of Zlatko Kranjcar's side. As Kranjcar said later: "You saw how we stopped Rooney. I usually watch Premier League games and I know English football very well."
When the dot matrix board came up it was inevitably calling in Crouch, a player whose isolation here was more to do with Rooney's failure to link with him than anything else. It should have been Rooney who processed off, to make way for Davies, and Capello's claim last night that the former talisman had a "normal game" was dubious.
The last image of Rooney was a final remonstration with Zverotic, perhaps about that booking. The crisis around him won't abate until his game lifts considerably – but the old Rooney looks a long way off.Reuse content