Manchester United 2 Newcastle United 0: United's striking tale receives happy ending in Rooney double

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The Independent Online

The debate over Ruud van Nistelrooy's first-team future lingers after he was denied a start again and Louis Saha failed to impress, but the form of Manchester United's other striker is a welcome distraction from the dilemma.

Wayne Rooney's awareness and voracity provided United's two decisive goals, within the opening 12 minutes, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson's selection problems seeming irrelevant.

After that early burst, it was unfathomable how the score stayed 2-0. "It could have been five or six at half-time," the Manchester United manager said. "It could have been 10 [at full-time]. That's not a glib comment."

Had Saha taken his opportunities they would have come close, but Ferguson defended his choice: "He's created a good combination between him and Wayne. I think I'm doing the right thing."

Minus the wasteful finishing, Manchester United were exceptional. They were aided by some scatter-brained defending from Newcastle and, more damagingly, the visitors also struggled in midfield, which is surprising considering the same players have dictated the tempo of recent matches.

As Newcastle searched for a way back from two-goals down, their central midfield duo of Scott Parker and Emre looked second-best against John O'Shea and Ryan Giggs, who are not naturals in that area. That was a key factor in Glenn Roeder's first defeat as Newcastle's caretaker manager.

"They let us off lightly," Roeder admitted. Although he realised the midfield needed a makeover at half-time, bringing on first Lee Bowyer, then Kieron Dyer, it was too late. Solidity and organisation are vital when visiting Old Trafford, where United have now won nine games in a row, but neither quality was apparent.

Rooney had already gone close with one run so it was scarcely believable that Newcastle charitably handed him a second chance, in the eighth minute. Peter Ramage was the guilty man, angling a careless back-pass from the right touchline into a gaping hole of space that Rooney darted into before lobbing delicately into the far corner. "Every top player has made a mistake," said Roeder. "What he mustn't do is do it again."

Rooney's second came after an embarrassingly smooth build-up, involving Saha's and O'Shea's exchange of passes, before the latter slipped the ball into the England striker's path. He was losing balance while shaping to shoot but summoned the strength to steer the ball beyond Shay Given.

Rooney's two goals only served to highlight Saha's struggles. The Frenchman's first break ended in him over-excitedly taking one heavy touch too many when a more delicate one would have teed him up nicely.

Two further Saha efforts were wasted before other United players took it in turns to spurn chances. Park Ji-Sung summed up their difficulties when he scooped over after Gary Neville, making his 500th club appearance, crossed delightfully following a speedy over-lapping run.

The momentum stayed with the home team after the interval, though, and Cristiano Ronaldo twice scuffed excellent opportunities. Rooney should have completed his hat-trick when he dribbled at Given, before coolly rounding him, but Robbie Elliott diverted his shot with the faintest of touches and it struck the far post.

Van Nistelrooy was finally handed an opportunity in the final 16 minutes, replacing Ronaldo as Rooney dropped back into a deeper role, but he miscued his big break when one-on-one with Given. With so much profligacy from United's players, Rooney's value was more evident than ever. "There's every chance he could become the world's number one player," said Roeder. "I just stand there and wish to God that I had him."

Goals: Rooney (8) 1-0; Rooney (12) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Brown, Silvestre (Evra, h-t); Ronaldo (Van Nistelrooy, 74), O'Shea, Giggs, Park; Saha, Rooney. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Vidic, Rossi.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Ramage, Boumsong, Elliott, Babayaro; Solano (Dyer, 65), Parker, Emre, N'Zogbia (Luque, 81); Shearer, Ameobi (Bowyer, h-t). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Clark .

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Newcastle Ramage.

Man of the match: Rooney.

Attendance: 67,858.

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