Rooney double sinks Villa
Manchester United 3 Aston Villa 1
Wayne Rooney produced an instant response to Sir Alex Ferguson's demand for the Manchester United striker to reach double figures this season with a double for the Premier League leaders in their win over Aston Villa.
It was the first time Rooney has scored two in a game for almost 11 months and, in front of England coach Fabio Capello, took his seasonal tally to five.
By way of a side issue, the striker's efforts also ensured United matched the efforts of the 1999 Treble-winners by matching their club record 29 league games unbeaten and at the same time maintaining a five-point advantage over Arsenal in the title race.
Not that Rooney's efforts, a brilliant goal after just 50 seconds and a tap-in during first-half stoppage time, ensured three points on their own.
Ferguson's side were also indebted to skipper Nemanja Vidic, who calmed nerves by driving home from 18 yards after Darren Bent had dragged Villa back into it.
Ferguson could hardly have timed his pre-match address better.
There were plenty who had wondered whether Javier Hernandez's recent goalscoring efforts might have earned the Mexican a starting berth alongside Dimitar Berbatov this evening.
That was clearly not part of Ferguson's thinking, choosing his programme notes to extol Rooney's wider contribution.
Yet, amid the praise was also a target for the 25-year-old to aim for. Some distance short of the 34 he managed last term but a significant improvement on the three he went into the game with.
And Rooney wasted absolutely no time in responding.
There were just 50 seconds on the clock when Edwin van der Sar launched a clearance deep into Villa territory from just outside his own area.
Rooney took one touch to control, then belted the ball past Brad Friedel, Richard Dunne's lack of pace having already been cruelly exposed.
With the exception of one Bent effort, which Van der Sar saved low to his right, United dominated thereafter.
Berbatov failed to threaten with a couple of close-range efforts. Nani got a bit closer, one attempt bringing a brilliant save out of Friedel, whose appearance gave him the title of the oldest player in Villa history.
Ryan Giggs also made the veteran American work with a mazy run and shot that forced a low save by the post.
Yet, as injury-time approached, United were still waiting for that crucial second which would have set their minds at ease.
Having started the half by finding the net, it was appropriate Rooney should finish it that way too.
He would be the first to admit Nani deserved all the credit though.
Nipping about in that frustrating way of his, the Portugal winger looked up and saw Rooney at the far post.
The delivery was perfect, curling round the back of the Villa defence, too far out for Friedel to contemplate an interception, then dropping perfectly for Rooney, who tapped home with ease.
Yet what looked like an easy win, turned into a very nervous few minutes in the second half as Villa found some inspiration.
Ashley Young started it when he curled a 20-yard free-kick narrowly wide.
The England man was at the hub of Villa's attacks and when Anderson, Patrice Evra and Vidic all failed to prevent him prodding a pass out to Stewart Downing, suddenly United were in trouble.
Downing took out Rio Ferdinand with an excellent cross and Bent does what Gerard Houllier paid £23million for, finishing with ease.
When Marc Albrighton smacked an effort goalwards from 30 yards, alarm bells started ringing amongst the home support, who could not have imagined who would turn up to ease their nerves.
Vidic is not noted for scoring with anything other than his head.
But, having nodded the ball on to Rooney from a United corner, the Serbian hung around long enough to receive the return, striding on to it confidently before drilling past Friedel.
Berbatov should have scored near the end but inexplicably fired over from eight yards after Friedel had denied Nani.
The American was also called upon to repel Rooney's hat-trick bid before the final whistle, although after such a tortuous season, the England star could be pretty pleased with his contribution anyway.
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