Manchester United 2 Portsmouth 1: Rooney is happy to be back on the chips
Monday 29 January 2007
No Emperor's stare or up-turned collar completed the magnificent impersonation of Eric Cantona yet Wayne Rooney's response to the execution of an exquisite chip and Portsmouth's FA Cup ambition suggested a similarly talismanic effect on the remainder of Manchester United's season.
First there was an impish grin, then laughter at the audacious lengths he had gone to disprove the theory that United run out of steam after 70 minutes, followed by what appeared a humble apology to his stranded victim in the visiting goalmouth, David James, on the final whistle. Then he laughed once more. Rooney enjoying himself on the grandest stage; how long it has been since that could be said with certainty and how United need his bedevilment for what they hope to achieve this season.
There have been times of late when even a player with the self-belief of Rooney must have questioned the assertion that, one day, Cantona, George Best and Co will have his company in the pantheon of Old Trafford legends, but on the basis of an indelible 30-minute cameo on Saturday evening, those doubts have dissolved in time for the 21-year-old to rejoin his team-mates in their pursuit of the Premiership and a first showpiece at the new Wembley.
Though Sir Alex Ferguson dismissed allegations of discontent and poor form, he did concede Rooney was in dire need of a change in fortune to improve confidence. One week after Rooney's header flew past Jens Lehmann at the Emirates stadium, he has not only scored in successive games for United for the first time since December 2005, but has also revived the aura of a player who thrives on the responsibility to transform a game. Having stepped from the bench to tap in a Ryan Giggs cross and break Pompey's experienced resistance, he made the greatest impression on the fourth round with a remarkable chip from 20 yards that kissed the underside of James' crossbar on its journey home.
"I was looking for the pass at first," revealed Rooney. "But then I decided to chip it instead. But I was as pleased with the first goal as I was with the second because I need to do a bit more of that, scoring easy goals."
Ferguson added: "If he can get into the scoring form which he did last season and get on a run of scoring single goals, he'll make some difference to our team."
Rooney's return also bodes well for the England manager, Steve McClaren, who was present at Old Trafford on Saturday and could not have failed to have been impressed by two Portsmouth men he cast into the international wilderness last summer without the melodrama that accompanied his identical treatment of David Beckham - Sol Campbell and David James.
Campbell and Linvoy Primus dominated until Ferguson ushered his £27m striker from the bench while the Portsmouth goalkeeper was outstanding, denying Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes with eye-catching saves - on current form, he and not Paul Robinson deserves to return between these posts when England play their friendly against Spain next month.
There was early controversy when the referee, Mike Riley, dismissed Portsmouth appeals for a penalty when Gary O'Neil tumbled from a touch by United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak. Then James blocked a header from Nemanja Vidic but only as far as six inches over the line - before Pedro Mendes proved that what goes around really does come around in football by hacking clear from the same spot where Roy Carroll infamously fumbled his shot for Tottenham two seasons ago. Now, as then, no goal was given.
"A lot of arguments in the pub will be ruined if you bring [technology] in," said the Portsmouth coach, Joe Jordan, the only management figure to speak to a mass audience, given that the BBC elected to screen a game featuring two managers who refuse to co-operate with the corporation.
Though Henrik Larsson added to the arguments with a fine volley wrongly disallowed for offside and the visitors had opportunity to cause United serious concern, Andrew Cole guilty of generosity towards his former club before Nwankwo Kanu deflected a Mendes drive in three minutes from time, the tie was destined to complete a day of forgettable FA Cup stories until Rooney arrived and chipped another glorious moment on to his curriculum vitae. By May, with the striker back in the goals, United may reflect on their first trip to the Emirates in a radically different light.
Goals: Rooney (77) 1-0; Rooney (83) 2-0; Kanu (87) 2-1.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Park, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs (Fletcher, 85); Solskjaer (Rooney, 60), Larsson. Substitutes not used: Van der Sar (gk), O'Shea, Silvestre.
Portsmouth (4-4-1-1): James; Johnson, Primus, Campbell, Lauren; O'Neil, Mendes, Hughes (Douala, 81), Taylor; Kranjcar (Mwaruwari, 79); Cole (Kanu, 61). Substitutes not used: Thompson, Ashdown (gk).
Referee: M Riley
Booked: Portsmouth: Hughes.
Man of the match: Rooney.
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