Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 2: Rooney's rare pedigree raises United above the ordinary

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The Independent Football

Woeful Aston Villa made Wigan Athletic seem like Real Madrid. Mark Delaney, the Villa right-back, asked if he thought Manchester United could mount a title challenge, wryly replied: "If they keep playing us they will."

There used to be a tradition of splendid contests between these two clubs. For the past decade, however, it has been enough for Villa's supporters to threaten their children that "Fergie will get you" to send them scampering to their beds in fear of the bogeyman.

Since United's 3-1 defeat at Villa Park on the opening day of the 1995-96 season prompted Alan Hansen on Match of the Day to say "You'll never win anything with kids," Sir Alex Ferguson's team have fared rather well. And they have not lost to Villa in the Premiership, home or away, winning 15 matches and drawing six.

Although the scaffolding is not yet visible, the Glazers have arrived and the United staff will have to restore their empire if they are to satisfy the commercial aspirations of their American owners.

There is only one Roy Keane, as United's supporters keep reminding everybody; "and they will not be able to get like for like," David O'Leary, Villa's manager and Keane's former Republic of Ireland team-mate, emphasised. O'Leary added that United would not find any magic in the January sales - this from a man who has major problems and will not even be able to go window-shopping.

"Chelsea can do what they want in the January window - Manchester United can't any more," O'Leary went on, acknowledging that it is not only a question of replacing Keane, but also of nurturing the finest home produce. "Where do you find another Beckham, where does he come from? When does another Giggs or Scholes come along?"

O'Leary has reason to envy United's achievements. Peter Schmeichel does not. His goalkeeping helped the club win 10 trophies. But the Dane was scathing about the current squad in a recent interview.

"Today's United team lack personality," Schmeichel is quoted as saying. "I'm thinking about players who could take the club forward. Ronaldo? No chance. Park? No chance. Ferdinand? No chance. Without Rooney, United would be a very ordinary team."

Wayne Rooney, of course, is one gem Chelsea may covet. As Edwin van der Sar, United's current goalkeeper, said: "Not only Chelsea, I think everybody in the world wants a player like that. He works hard for the team up front, and also in midfield and defensively also. He's a great asset."

Not long into the match, Rooney, frustrated after losing the ball, executed a petulant two-footed stamp reminiscent of a small boy denied a bag of sweets. "Rooney's part of a certain breed, like Keane, who would play for nothing," O'Leary observed. "Rooney's biggest turn-on is about playing football."

Rooney, in tandem with Ruud van Nistelrooy, breached Villa's soft-centred defence - and they might have scored half a dozen between them - while Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher controlled the middle of the pitch.

Van der Sar was not troubled in the first half, when Milan Baros was Villa's lone striker, but had two scares in the second half after Juan Pablo Angel was brought into play. Gareth Barry was unlucky to shoot wide on the turn, and a Baros shot hit the bar.

In the closing moments, Van Nistelrooy headed wide after Ronaldo improvised a cross from the left.

Goals: Van Nistelrooy 10 (0-1); Rooney 51 (0-2).

Aston Villa (4-5-1): Sorensen; Delaney, Hughes, Ridgewell, Bouma; Milner (Angel, 45), Davis, McCann, Bakke, Barry; Baros. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Hendrie, De la Cruz, Moore.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Brown, 0'Shea; Park, Fletcher, Scholes, Giggs (Ronaldo, 62); Van Nistelrooy, Rooney. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Bardsley, Rossi, Jones.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Aston Villa Angel.

Man of the match: Rooney.

Attendance: 37,128.