Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester United 2: Berbatov's subtle style lifts United to new level

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The Independent Online

Well, you would not have slept either, if you had waited over two years for a go in goal and then faced the most formidable front line in the land. Jason Brown, of Blackburn Rovers, was up at 5am on Saturday and flicking around the TV stations when he heard that Wayne Rooney might be injured. "I was thinking 'OK, they'll bring in Berbatov and Tevez'," he said.

As things turned out, the TV had it all wrong about Rooney anyway. He played and at one stage on Saturday evening all four of United's strikers were on the pitch at the same time, so Brown could count himself lucky that the one thing he had specifically prepared for did not crop up. "Ronaldo has a bit of a dodgy shot where the ball moves a lot so I'd worked on things like that," he said after playing a major part in preventing the floodgates opening in more ways than one on a night of biblical weather in Lancashire.

No training can prepare you for a sumptuous goal like Rooney's, of course, nor for the way he moved a yard inside Christopher Samba to create the angle and space to dispatch it. And another telling aspect of that goal – one that reaches to the heart of the proposition that the champions are a stronger force this year than last – took place way beyond Brown's view, when Dimitar Berbatov intercepted a pass from Stephen Warnock and set the move in motion.

Berbatov moves in subtle ways. Consider the passes he nursed behind the centre-backs to send Fletcher, then Rooney through against Brown. The ball he took down from shoulder height with his foot to send Ronaldo running free into the box. Each should have registered a goal.

Rooney's season is firing up too, with three goals in three games now. His ankle, he revealed, after splashing around the pitch, socks around his calves, has been "a bit weak" over the last couple of weeks and he has not trained very much. But the striker has declared himself fit for both of England's impending World Cup matches.

All the Blackburn manager, Paul Ince, could cling to was the highly dubious nature of United's opener – Nemanja Vidic clearly laid an elbow into Brown's jaw as he went up for the Rooney cross which Wes Brown headed in – and he claimed that his six years at Old Trafford had convinced him that decisions go with bigger sides. "I think the bigger teams do get the bigger decisions," Ince said, reflecting also on United's dubious penalty last week. "I played for Man United so I know. I've had it happen to me. I'm not saying all officials should be banned [for a bad mistake], but players get banned for being sent off and things like that. Referees are on professional contracts as well, so why not?"

But let no controversy paper over Rovers' failure, after an opening 10 minutes in which Matt Derbyshire missed badly from the pass Andre Oijer played inside Vidic, to live up to either part of their motto Arte et labore ("by skill and labour"). The biggest home cheer of the night, as Brown observed, came when he accidentally cleared a ball into Ronaldo's shoulder. Ince put the result down to the "£200m" value of United's squad. "You can spend all week discussing tactics and personnel and I probably thought about playing 20,000 different teams," he said. "But at the end of the day when a team is that good, sometimes you can't do anything about it."

Not the kind of talk you would have expected. Perhaps that is what happens when your opponents actually exceed the early-morning TV hype.

Goals: Brown (31) 0-1; Rooney (64) 0-2.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Brown; Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Olsson; Emerton, Tugay (Andrews, 68) Warnock, Pedersen (Treacy, 57); Santa Cruz (Roberts, 49), Derbyshire. Substitutes not used: Bunn (gk), Mokoena, Villanueva, Fowler.

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (O'Shea, 70); Fletcher, Anderson; Rooney (Park, 77) Giggs (Tevez, 65), Ronaldo; Berbatov. Substitutes not used: Amos, Nani, Rafael, Evans.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Blackburn Pedersen Samba; Manchester United Fletcher.

Man of the match: Berbatov.

Attendance: 27, 321.

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