Rooney keeps United in the hunt

Manchester United 3 West Ham United 0
Click to follow

Just when the story seemed to be about Wayne Rooney and two more expertly navigated headers – replicas of San Siro, each one – a spectre resurfaced last night which threatens to haunt Fabio Capello right through to his June date in South Africa.

Sir Alex Ferguson dropped the news of the latest recurrence of Rio Ferdinand's back trouble innocuously, at the end of a post-match interview in which he disclosed that the new England captain will be missing from Sunday's Carling Cup final against Aston Villa. "He got a twinge in his back this morning in training," the manager murmured. "He'd been training great with no mishaps at all but you get these twinges and you can't take a chance. He won't be ready for Sunday. Unfortunately he'll miss a couple of games."

Unfortunate doesn't begin to tell it, where England are concerned. Ferdinand becomes possibly the first England captain to relinquish the armband before he has even taken it up. It is just 18 days since Capello, expected back from a coaching symposium in Sun City, South Africa today, nominated the 31-year-old as the successor to John Terry. But he now seems unlikely to have him for England's last pre-World Cup friendly against Egypt next Wednesday and questions remain about whether Ferdinand's back pain, which has also affected his calf when he plays through it, will bear the rigours of a tournament. On only two occasions this season has Ferdinand played successive games for United. There have been just 11 appearances in all.

With Ashley Cole's World Cup in severe doubt because of his broken ankle, Glen Johnson's knee trouble keeping him out of Liverpool training until next month, Joleon Lescott only just back from knee surgery and Phil Jagielka's planned rehabilitation postponed when Everton's reserve match was called off last night, England's defence looks threadbare. Steven Gerrard, the vice captain, does not appear to be fully fit, and then there is the goalkeeping issue. Ben Foster, granted his first chance last night since Besiktas won here in November, had some nervy moments to go with two good second-half saves – as his manager acknowledged.

All told, enough headaches to make Rooney's contribution here almost a footnote, though with six headed goals in seven games and 19 goals in as many games, the England coach must be pulled this way and that with polar opposite emotions. "He's obviously got my video," Ferguson joked last night after watching his prime striker take his season's tally to 27. West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola described Rooney as "King Midas" and he is as much the heartbeat of United as was another former No 10 who happens to be 70 today – Denis Law. Law would probably say Rooney is the more complete player.

But to go with the striker's two expertly navigated headers on 38 and 55 minutes was evidence last night of a new coming man at Old Trafford, who set them both up. Antonio Valencia created Rooney's goal in Milan last Tuesday, and the same immaculately measured supply-line provided twice again here.

Two good blocks had just about kept the Ecuadorean behind the door before the decisive, smooth-flowing move which opened the scoring. Park Ji-Sung, on for Anderson, and Dimitar Berbatov processed the ball from left to right where Jonathan Spector allowed Valencia the space to volley the cross that Rooney deposited unhindered with his head. Rooney landed a shot on the roof of the net and substitute Park slammed another Valencia cross against the bar, a minute either side of the interval, though the event was settled ten minutes after the restart, when Valencia exchanged passes with Berbatov and squeezed between Matthew Upson and Spector to float a second cross for Rooney to nod in.

Mido might have brought West Ham back in to the game had he connected with Valon Behrami's cross but another pitiful night for West Ham was sealed when Michael Owen stole in behind Julian Faubert to slot home Paul Scholes' ball nine minutes from time: his first league goal since the Manchester derby on 20 September and another one Capello wasn't present to observe.

Ferguson, who will be without Nani and Ryan Giggs at Wembley, was also ruing the loss of Anderson 17 minutes into the match, the Brazilian having twisted his knee in the course of his contribution to an early angular move. "It's not looking great," Ferguson declared. It was the story of the night.

Manchester United (4-4-2) Foster; Neville, Brown, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Gibson, Scholes, Anderson (Park, 19); Berbatov (Owen, 78), Rooney (Diouf, 78). Substitutes not used: Rafael, Evans, Fletcher, Kuszczak (gk).

West Ham United (4-4-2) Green; Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Spector; Behrami (Collison 63), Noble, Kovac, Diamanti (Dyer, 75); Franco (Mido, h-t), Cole. Substitutes not used: Ilan, Da Costa, Stech (gk), Daprela.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).

Man of the match: Rooney.

Attendance: 73,797.