Villarreal 0 Manchester United 0

United hold on after Rooney loses his grip
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The Independent Football

The United manager did not even bother with a second glance towards Rooney as he trudged off the pitch on 65 minutes after a dismissal that was not the behaviour of world football's most exciting teenager but rather more like that of Kevin the Teenager. Harry Enfield's revolting comic creation would have reluctantly recognised himself in the ludicrous clapping with which Rooney greeted referee Kim Milton Nielsen's award of a yellow card against him after he had tripped the Villarreal captain Quique Alvarez.

The 19-year-old's reaction was crude and aggressive - as Nielsen walked past he clapped right in the face of the Danish official - and he appeared to recognise his mistake almost as soon as he had committed it. Nielsen reached for his yellow and his red card in quick succession, Rooney walked off and then turned round to plead a little more. But if he wanted a judgement on his behaviour then he needed only look at his team-mates who did no more than turn away in horror.

He will miss the visit of Benfica to Old Trafford in two weeks' time, and could face further punishment for refusing to leave the pitch immediately, but the wider implications for his fearsome temperament are more worrying. "He gave himself no chance with that referee," was Ferguson's assessment and he is rarely so uncompromising in his appraisal of his own player's behaviour.

Nielsen, who sent off David Beckham in the 1998 World Cup finals, is not Ferguson's favourite referee. Yet anyone who watched Rooney snapping and snarling at his international team-mates last week might have predicted an explosion was imminent. He has come close before, not least when Sven Goran Eriksson, in the stands last night, had to substitute him just before half-time in a friendly against Spain last November when Rooney threatened to boil over.

Most frustrating for Ferguson was that his team had finally gained control at the point at which Rooney was dismissed, chiefly through another significant contribution from the teenager. Their passing had been less than cogent in the first half and Mikaël Silvestre had the only chance of the opening stages. From Paul Scholes' corner, the Frenchman headed the ball down at the back post and the goalkeeper Sebastian Viera did exceptionally well to turn the effort away.

With four minutes of the first half left, Cristiano Ronaldo's ball from the left wing skimmed low towards Viera, who made a hopeless mess of stooping to catch it and presented possession to Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutch striker headed the ball past the goalkeeper and, following its path to the goalline, was just steadying himself to ease it home when the defender Gonzalo Rodriguez intervened with a sublime overhead kick that scooped it out and away from goal.

The moment of greatest uncertainty for United had come after 36 minutes when Antonio Guayre's cross was flicked on by the veteran Argentinian international Juan-Pablo Sorin and Edwin van der Sar was forced to dive to his left to brush away Rodolfo Arruabarrena's shot.

The goalkeeper was significantly less troubled when the former United striker Diego Forlan was given a shooting chance inside the area and swept it four feet wide. The Uruguayan's desperation for a goal against his former club last night equalled that with which he pursued his first for United over his initial six painful months in Manchester.

Before his sending-off, Rooney had flicked up, and struck, a ball from the edge of the area but the closing stages were dominated by Villarreal. A free-kick from Marcos Senna clipped Van der Sar's bar via Rio Ferdinand's head as United defended with some desperation in the closing stages.

Ferguson was pleased at, if nothing else, the manner in which his side held out in the closing stages with 10 men against a team built to attack at home. The medial ligament damage sustained by Gabriel Heinze means that United are dreadfully short of full-backs ahead of Sunday's Premiership match against Liverpool and Kieran Richardson looks likely to make his first start of the season in that position.

By the close of the post-match press conference, Ferguson had taken three questions on Rooney and then announced that he would not take anymore. "Eradicating his bad points but not losing his good ones," was how he assessed the task that faces him with his teenage prodigy. As a managerial challenge it ranks among the biggest of his career.

Villarreal (4-4-2): Viera; Kromkamp, Gonzalo, Alvarez, Arruabarrena; Font (Roger, 70), Josico (Tacchinardi, h-t), Senna, Sorin; Forlan, Guayre (Figueroa, 66). Substitutes not used: Barbosa (gk), Valencia, Cazorla, Pena.

Manchester United (4-5-1): Van der Sar; O'Shea, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze (Richardson, 32); Ronaldo (Giggs, 80), Fletcher, Scholes, Smith, Rooney; Van Nistelrooy (Park, 80). Substitutes not used: Howard (gk), Miller, Bardsley, Pique.

Referee: K M Nielsen (Denmark).

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