Rooney riches leave United in his debt

Manchester United 4 Hull City 0
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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney did not exactly lift United into first place in the Premier League single-handed, but he did so with the statutory minimum of help from his friends.

United were indebted to Rooney and his four goals for distracting from their £700m debt under the hated Glazer regime which has come to light in recent weeks. When he completed his most productive game yet for the Reds with three strikes late in what had been shaping as an awkward afternoon, being in the red suddenly seemed not too bad.

With typically Fergusonian logic, their manager dismissed the financial revelations as "stirred up in the media". It was not the despised media, however, who handed out the song-sheets for the renditions of "We want Glazer out" that rang around Old Trafford until Rooney's efforts concentrated attention on the common cause.

"I thought we started well, but took our foot off the pedal a bit," Ferguson said. "But you have to give credit to Hull for the way they kept going."

In fact, City, who showed dogged persistence in ignoring their own difficulties with their former chairman Paul Duffen, accused in court by the club of taking bungs last week, threatened to spoil the party just once, when substitute Kamel Ghilas sent a shot through a crowded area on the turn past the post with the score still at a precarious 1-0.

Rooney's response to that was three goals in 11 minutes, two of them owing a good deal to the work of the oft-derided Nani, surely enjoying his best game yet for United. The effect was to take the focus away from the Glazers, although the United hard-core support need as much "stirring up" on that subject as Carlos Tevez at the mention of Gary Neville.

Hull's Phil Brown said: "I didn't think there was enough belief that we could come here and get something." Brown was not helped by an error-prone performance from his goal-keeper, Boaz Myhill, who had been so magnificent at Tottenham a week earlier. As he acknowledged, however, Rooney's constant attentions forced plenty of other players into mistakes as well.

Some of Hull's most interesting work took place not on the pitch at all, but just off it. First there was Craig Fagan, cleaning out the assistant referee with a shoulder charge of ice hockey proportions that put him literally into the front row of the stands. Then there was the sight of Nick Barmby on the touchline, not warming up in preparation for going on, but warming down after coming off. You can't be too careful in the twilight of your career and it at least gave him a close-up view of Rooney's late rampage.

Brown made the valid point that it is not games at Old Trafford that will define Hull's season, but the run of three home games they have coming up, against Wolves, Chelsea and Manchester City. United's will be defined in the short term by their Carling Cup semi-final second leg against City on Wednesday.

One reassuring factor was that Rio Ferdinand came smoothly enough through his first game since succumbing to back trouble in October. He was helped in his comeback by a strong performance from Jonny Evans, the young defender who has grown in stature in the captain's absence, evidence of a depth of talent that managers such as Brown can only envy.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Evra (Fabio 88); Nani, Fletcher, Scholes (Gibson 72), Park; Rooney, Owen (Berbatov 72). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Brown, Carrick, Valencia.

Hull City (4-5-1): Myhill; McShane, Zayatte, Gardner, Dawson; Garcia (Kilbane 74), Geovanni (Ghilas 69), Boateng, Barmby (Mendy 57), Hunt; Fagan. Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Mouyokolo, Carney, Vennegoor of Hesselink

Referee: S Bennett (Kent). Booked: ManchesterUnited: Rooney. Hull: Fagan Man of the match: Rooney. Attendance: 73,933.