Rooney offers temporary solution to United's midfield problem

 

A South Korean television crew had been in Manchester all week, in search of the soul of Park Ji-Sung. Why had he started only two of Manchester United's Premier League games this season, they wanted to know. What did he really bring to the team? Would he be around for much longer?

Park is so unassuming a character and the colourful anecdotes about him so scarce, beyond the one about the party popper Patrice Evra exploded into his face at a birthday bash, that it was actually hard to sustain the half-hour's filming they had planned.

The TV crew were not present for United's high-noon encounter yesterday – a showdown in which many looked for evidence that Ferguson's "worst day ever" against Manchester City was symptomatic of a deeper malaise. That was a shame, because though Park's display will win few accolades today and there will be few 8s against the 30-year-old's name in the player ratings, here was the essence of what he brings to United.

The qualities are solidity and steadfastness, qualities United could have used against Roberto Mancini's team seven days ago. Park's omission by Sir Alex Ferguson last Sunday has not been much remarked on, but David Silva and Co would not have danced around him like they did Anderson and Darren Fletcher. A United team with Park in it are a team who will never concede goals lightly.

His name was the one you most expected on the teamsheet yesterday as United sought to restore some of the belief which can be ripped out of any side and to stem the tide which had washed through their midfield all season, allowing 168 shots to rain in their goal.

This victory restores some of the equilibrium. The sight of Nemanja Vidic restored to his best will be a comfort, as is any kind of victory at a stadium where United had not wonsince December 2007. For aside who have proved such a challenge to Ferguson here in recent years, Everton lacked the finishing touch.

But the Ferguson who was up on his feet as the second half drew on did not look like a comfortable man, and he knows that the question of how to win the midfield battle persists. Tim Howard was the less busy goalkeeper, Everton were the side with more shots on goal. Butfor a first half in which they briefly got outnumbered in the middle, the outcome might have been different.

United had Roy Keane in there to repair things when they last conceded six goals – to Southampton in October 1996 – and went on to win the title.But in the post-Paul Scholesera they lack personnel.Fletcher was one of the most unconvincing players in red yesterday – the free-kick Leighton Baines swung against United's crossbar coming from his mistimed challenge on Marouane Fellaini – and the suspicion persists that the virus which destroyed his previous season leaves him diminished.

Michael Carrick, not even on the bench and yet to start a Premier League game this season, seems to have vanished from the manager's planning. Anderson's absence from the bench suggested that Ferguson considered his performance last Sunday to be of most concern.

It was to Wayne Rooney that Ferguson turned for a central midfielder. "That was a surprise," David Moyes reflected, though the Everton manager has always felt Rooney would make a good midfielder and he served selflessly and indefatigably. When the fixture list came out, Rooney would have hoped for a better billeting than this to go in pursuit of his first goal against the club that made him since his strike in April 2007.

Tom Cleverley was integral to the first-half period to which United owed their victory. A lean and hungry footballer, he is always seeking possession, always signalling, palms down, for the ball to his feet. He was neat with the ball and his fine work began the move that ended in Javier Hernandez's goal.

It took a more industrious quality, embodied in the man they call "Three Lung Park", to see United home, though. "We're shit and we're champions," sang United's fans, making irony out of last Sunday, but their manager knows that questions remain.

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