The Rooney and Ronaldo Show

Manchester United 3 - Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Online

If Malcolm Glazer didn't know much about the FA Cup before yesterday, he does now. The American tycoon, who is reportedly about to launch yet another bid for the Lancashire giants, will have seen just what it means to Manchester United this season after a performance that had Cardiff written all over it.

If Malcolm Glazer didn't know much about the FA Cup before yesterday, he does now. The American tycoon, who is reportedly about to launch yet another bid for the Lancashire giants, will have seen just what it means to Manchester United this season after a performance that had Cardiff written all over it.

Wayne Rooney was the hero of this fourth-round waltz with two wonderfully taken goals, although the dancing dream that is Cristiano Ronaldo did its utmost to steal his show. And some show it was as Sir Alex Ferguson's men set about proving to all that for them this season, with the title seemingly heading towards west London, the old competition is one they will be taking ultra-seriously.

Indeed, unusually in the early rounds of a cup competition not bearing a European prefix, there was more than a hint of the first team about United's line-up. Granted there was no Roy Keane providing his customary snarl to ward off any pesky magic that might be swirling in the cold night air, but that was because of suspension rather than any conservation policy on Ferguson's behalf.

After the Exeter experience, rotation is seemingly a movement that Ferguson can no longer risk taking, although in 90 minutes where Middlesbrough were sent running aimlessly in circles, the United manager might have imagined that his kids would have not have to rise far above their station against these visitors.

With Ryan Giggs playing that roving role in behind Rooney as the lone attacker who rarely fails to put the fear of all that is holy into the opposition, and with Ronaldo very much in party-piece mood, Middlesbrough were the wannabe gatecrashers locked firmly in the pantry.

When the opener came it came from a most unlikely source, John O'Shea showing the instincts of the sharpest-toothed predator when applying a finish to Ronaldo's piece of trickery high into Mark Schwarzer's net. Game over in the 10th minute, or so you would have thought if you watched the Harlem Globetrotter antics of Ronaldo over the next half an hour. While Phil Neville was doing his passable impersonation of Keane in the heart of midfield, and with Giggs at his best with mazy runs into the box, Ronaldo cast himself in the role of great entertainer. There was plenty to "oooh" and "ahhh" about from the god-given feet of the young Portuguese, although one piece of skill made everyone rush home to check on Match Of The Day that their eyes had not deceived them.

It was on the verge of the break when the ball flew crossfield towards Ronaldo. With a player to his left, one to his right, Ronaldo looked upfield to where Rooney was waiting. Middlesbrough drifted towards him, as did every other eye in the house, but then, with his own eyes focused in the opposite direction, in one sumptuous movement he managed to trap the ball and deliver an inch-perfect pass to his team-mate behind him. It was the sort of moment a Nike ad man would have wasted a 1,000 reels of videotape waiting for.

Not that Ferguson was salivating with the beauty of such virtuosity. Despite utterly dominating the opening 45 minutes, United were still only one to the good, and if Boudewijn Zenden had not hesitated in the 32nd minute it could have been all square. It was Rio Ferdinand's token howler for the day that let in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and his cute ball inside to the prying Dutchman left the goal at his mercy. Instead of hitting it first time, however, he took a fatal touch and Roy Carroll was able to bundle it out of play.

Warning had been served, although United found it increasingly difficult to act on it. Giggs was displaying that tendency of his to lose all his limitless talent when in front of goal, fluffing two chances, and when Ronaldo delayed his ball across to Giggs after the pair had charged upfield it looked like being a nervous final quarter for United.

But then Rooney intervened. In the 67th minute Stewart Downing drew attention to himself in the most disastrous manner possible when stumbling over the ball to allow Gary Neville a clear passage through. The right-back picked out Rooney, whose run and chip over the advancing Schwarzer was the reward United's craft and industry deserved. There was more, and if anything Rooney's thumping volley off Louis Saha's flick-on with eight minutes left was even more special. Glazer must have licked his lips.

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