Rooney the rampant

Stunning strikes by England's young master inspire the holders as Redknapp's reunion ends in a dramatic victory
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The Independent Online

Who needs upsets to light up the world's oldest competition? Yeovil Town could not add to their impressive catalogue of giantkillings and there were no Ronnie Radfords about yesterday. But there was one Wayne Rooney. The teenage England striker produced two jaw-dropping pieces of sensational finishing that will shine out as beacons for the entire FA Cup campaign this season.

Who needs upsets to light up the world's oldest competition? Yeovil Town could not add to their impressive catalogue of giantkillings and there were no Ronnie Radfords about yesterday. But there was one Wayne Rooney. The teenage England striker produced two jaw-dropping pieces of sensational finishing that will shine out as beacons for the entire FA Cup campaign this season.

Manchester United's 3-0 triumph at Old Trafford that sent the holders waltzing into the fifth round at Middlesbrough's expense bore no comparison to that embarrassing draw with Exeter City in the previous round. There was no Roy Keane and Paul Scholes was on the bench but the rest of United's powerhouse was out there, with Cristiano Ronaldo running through his full range of tricks. Rooney capped them all.

John O'Shea was the unlikely scorer of United's opener, courtesy of a piece of delicate ball juggling by Ronaldo. It was enough to make Middlesbrough look a well-beaten side, if only because it inspired irrepressible Ronaldo to perform to his impudent best.

But it was not until the middle of the second half that United underlined the fact that there was no way back for Boro. An error by Stewart Downing handed United the chnace to counterattack and - as against Chelsea in the Carling Cup - it was Gary Neville who pounced on the opportunity. Mark Schwarzer realised there was imminent danger and began to race off his line as Neville's long pass picked out Rooney this time rather than Giggs. Boro's goalkeeper could not have appreciated quite what the extent of the danger was until Rooney moved on to the ball and, seeing the Australian off his line, left him stranded with a looping first-time shot that pitched perfectly in the net.

It was a goal to win any match, not least because of the soul-destroying impact of its speed, its simplicity and the precision of its execution. It carried a challenge to every Boro player to produce something to match it or the game was up. There was, as it turned out, one player who could match it - and that was Rooney himself. With eight minutes of the match remaining, Louis Saha nodded the ball on in the direction of Rooney, who was pulling away from his marker on the edge of the penalty area. Again, one touch of Rooney's right boot was enough. As the ball dropped he met it perfectly on the volley launching a shot diagonally from right to left that dipped devilishly over Schwarzer's clawing hand. Pure magic.

That level of subtlety was never on the agenda at St Mary's where blood and thunder were expected as Southampton took on their neighbours Portsmouth. There was never such a thing as friendly rivalry on the South Coast, but the presence of the former Pompey manager Harry Redknapp in the home dugout running operations for the Saints made this collision potentially even more volatile.

In the event it was largely a phoney war, but there was a final drama that could have been scripted. Southampton won it 2-1 with a controversial penalty in the last minute that sparked uproar and was coolly converted by Peter Crouch and he, of course, once played for Portsmouth.

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