Van Nistelrooy keeps business booming

Manchester United 1 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Football

And guess what? There were chants of "USA! USA!" OK, it was irony from the visiting supporters, but it's a start. Aston Villa, by the way, are in Birmingham, but not Alabama. They have not won at Old Trafford since 1983, almost as long ago as your move upwards from the Glazer watch repair business. They do not have Abramovich's money, or even yours, and are still in the process of strengthening the team.

Consequently, they adopted a strategy known as "getting everybody behind the ball", which is a bit like being caught in the Alamo. Their head coach, David O'Leary, who is Irish but too tall to be called a leprechaun, said he was averse to such tactics but pragmatism ruled his heart.

Sir Alex (Fergie) Ferguson, anxious for a goal as the number of chances came and went, demanded a concerted effort at a faster pace in the second half, trusting that Thomas Sorensen's heroics in Villa's goal could not go on for ever.

The match was won with 24 minutes left to play. O'Leary reckoned the goal was a mistake because Villa lost possession in an attacking position to Rio Ferdinand, the one who imagines he is worth as much as you.

Ferdinand advanced from United's defence and caused uncertainty in Villa's as Cristiano Ronaldo crossed the ball. Villa's captain, Olof Mellberg, directed it into the path of Ruud van Nistelrooy, who scored his third goal in three games.

It is eerie how the supporters' chorus of "Ruud!" also sounds like "boo!" Happily, he appears to have found his killer touch again after suffering for most of last season.

It should be emphasised that O'Leary did not buy Rooney's shirt. It was a gift. O'Leary was observed to put an arm round Rooney's shoulder at the end of the match, prompting one joker to ask if he was having a quiet word in the hope of strengthening his squad.

O'Leary explained he was asking Rooney for his shirt to pass on to a friend in a good cause. It was duly delivered, and O'Leary said how much he admired Rooney as a player and that he seemed like a pleasant young man.

The slowest move of the day was Rooney's walk off the pitch on being substituted for Alan Smith after 78 minutes. Rooney had been booked in the first half and was subjected to a heavy tackle.

None the less, Rooney seemed keen to continue to run the show, and his apparent reluctance to leave the action struck O'Leary as typical. His impression was that Rooney simply loved to compete.

The money angle was not part of the dimensions of the playing area, O'Leary said, stressing the importance of players taking care when choosing their friends outside the game. It was reminiscent of listening to a chap called Sir Matt Busby.

Goal: Van Nistelrooy (66) 1-0.

Manchester United (4-3-2-1): Van der Sar; Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O'Shea (Heinze, 59); Fletcher, Keane, Scholes; Rooney (Smith, 78), Park Ji-Sung (Ronaldo, 59); Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Richardson.

Aston Villa (5-4-1): Sorensen; Samuel (Djemba-Djemba, 20), Mellberg, Barry, Hughes, De La Cruz (Solano, 73); Whittingham (Moore, 73), McCann, Davis, Ridgewell; Angel. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Cahill.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Manchester United Rooney, Scholes; Aston Villa Mellberg.

Man of the match: Sorensen.

Attendance: 67,934.

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