Rooney's magic helps Ferguson put Ince in place

Blackburn Rovers 0 Manchester United 2: Talisman's brilliant strike thrills watching Capello as United manager gets better of 'big-time Charlie'
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The Independent Football

Whatever else he hoped to achieve as a manager, starting a game in October four places and two points ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United was something for the former Old Trafford warrior Paul Ince to savour. By half past seven last night, however, his old club were not only back in front after a comfortable victory, but also in the top six for the first time this season. Moving to Liverpool appears to have cost Ince his hero status as well. "Charlie, Charlie, what's the score?" United's supporters chorused at the man Ferguson once called a "big-time Charlie" – for which he had the good grace to apologise on Friday.

Wes Brown, who had won back his place at right-back from Gary Neville and Rafael da Silva, nudged them ahead with a bitterly disputed goal, but there was no arguing with the second one, scored by Wayne Rooney, which provided a bonus for the England manager Fabio Capello. He had rushed from watching Emile Heskey at Wigan to Ewood Park, to see Rooney unexpectedly start and give an outstanding performance. Having broken his scoring duck in midweek, Dimitar Berbatov was equally good, providing all the craft as a leader of the line that Ferguson had hoped for when acting as taxi-driver to facilitate the Bulgarian's £30m move from Tottenham on the last day of the summer transfer window.

The champions made light of persistent driving rain as well as an apparent shortage of midfield options in the absence of three England internationals, Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and Paul Scholes all hors de combat. With Darren Fletcher and Anderson sitting in central midfield and an attacking trio of Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, Blackburn were only in the game for the first 25 minutes. It took longer than that nevertheless for United to force a save from Jason Brown in Rovers' goal. Being reserve to Brad Friedel must be the most redundant position in the Premier League after more than 150 successive appearances, but since Friedel's departure to Aston Villa, the replacement Paul Robinson has picked up an injury, offering Brown his chance.

He distinguished himself here by pushing Ryan Giggs' fierce drive over the bar. From the resulting corner, taken short on the left, Rooney's cross to the far side was met by the merest nudge from Wes Brown as Nemanja Vidic leant on the keeper. Jason Brown protested furiously but in vain and was soon having to fall at Rooney's feet to prevent a second goal as United assumed a grip on the game that they never relinquished.

Until that time, possession and chances had been equally distributed. There were good moments for the home side when Matt Derbyshire forced Edwin van der Sar to save following a low cross by Andre Ooijer and when Brett Emerton's 25-yard shot passed close by a post. At the other end Ronaldo, quickly establishing himself as the pantomime villain for the home supporters after playing unsuccessfully for two early free-kicks, showed greater determination in winning a corner on the left that flashed across the six-yard box, Vidic making only enough contact at the far post to jab the ball wide.

Then Berbatov deftly set up Darren Fletcher for a shot pulled across goal. The half finished with Rooney heading wide a cross by Brown and with several thousand United followers in good voice despite the rain. Ince appeared to be raising his voice, confronting the referee Steve Bennett to make his views known about why the goal should have been disallowed.

Despite having an excellent record when they make the short journey north to Bolton, United have normally had less joy up the A666 at Blackburn, winning only once in eight visits since 1999 before yesterday. Their prospects of a second success further improved soon after the interval, when Ince had to substitute Roque Santa Cruz, who had been more than holding his own in a physical battle with Vidic. Although his replacement Jason Roberts is just as vigorous a striker, Rovers were achieving nothing in attack and it was hardly a shock when United broke through again.

The goal was beautifully constructed from the moment that Berbatov, foraging deep in his own half, won the ball back. Brown carried it forward across the halfway line and found Ronaldo, who had switched to the right. The winger easily outpaced his full-back, Martin Olsson and cut back a cross for Rooney to curl right-footed high into the net. When Ronaldo wriggled in from the wing again just before full-time, Carlos Tevez, on for Giggs, struck a post. Three-nil would not have been flattering but two was more than sufficient.

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