Sunderland 1 Manchester United 3

Rooney lifts United out of the ordinary
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Nine days short of his 20th birthday, he showed some 24-carat touches, three of his last teenage kicks deciding a Premiership contest in which Manchester United trod water for the opening 40 minutes.

It was a right-footed finish by Rooney that turned the tide, five minutes before half-time, and the boy wonder also threaded goal-prompting passes to Ruud van Nistelrooy and the 18-year-old Giuseppe Rossi as United resisted a late Sunderland revival to record their second successive win in the Premiership.

It was a heartening sight for most Englishmen, though not for one Barnsley-born Irishman. "I'm pissed off," Mick McCarthy said, when asked about Rooney. "He's a quality player who everyone expects to win the World Cup for England."

For Sunderland and their former Republic of Ireland manager, winning the fight to hold on to Premiership status is the name of the game. The trouble is that they lack vital clout in front of goal. They did have Sugar Ray Leonard behind them yesterday, though he stepped off the pitch after waving a Sunderland scarf before kick-off time.

Still, Sunderland almost landed a blow in the 13th minute, Edwin van der Sar producing a brilliant reflex save to keep out Gary Breen's thundering header following a right-wing corner clipped to the near post by Liam Lawrence. Stephen Elliott was also close with a shot on the turn as United laboured to such an extent that Sir Alex Ferguson ventured to the touchline to administer a little long-range hairdryer treatment.

It did the trick. Five minutes before half-time - and against the run of play in every respect - United took the lead. John O'Shea launched a counter-attack from the left-back position, Park Ji-Sung feeding the ball on to Rooney, who strode into the penalty area, rounded Kelvin Davis and converted from a tight angle - despite a fine attempt to intervene by the excellent Justin Hoyte.

It was McCarthy's turn to show his frustration, responding to Roy Keane-related taunts from the visiting supporters by pointing to his broad shoulders. Sadly for him, his suddenly subdued side were in danger of being overwhelmed by a transformed United in the second half.

Breen cleared a Park shot off the line before Rooney released Van Nistelrooy from the half-way line in the 76th minute and the Dutchman fended off Steven Caldwell before burying a right-footed drive. At the other end Elliott hit the bull's-eye with a fine left-foot drive and Van der Sar had to dive full length to keep out a free-kick by Anthony Le Tallec.

With two minutes remaining, though, Rooney fed the ball inside from the right to Rossi and the Italian-American's low drive deflected off Breen to ease United through and into the comfort zone.