Wigan Athletic 1 Manchester Utd 3: The Rooney revival show helps United to sparkle

Under-fire striker back to best - a good sign for England
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The Independent Online

The bulletins about Rooney's form can cease. The lost gifts have been found and all is well in Wayne's world. Even crude comments from yobbish supporters would have not made a dent on him yesterday, if any critics could have been found among the awed masses at the JJB Stadium.

Rooney, who has been a pale shadow since he returned from suspension, re-emerged in his full, resplendent colours to drag Manchester United to their third away win of the season and maintain their position at the top of the Premiership. He hit the bar and had an influential hand in two goals, while giving notice his impish best has returned.

You want proof? Look at United's injury-time third goal. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played a pass that was behind him but Rooney completed the one-two with an outrageous flick of his heel. Solskjaer still had a lot to do, and he did it with exemplary efficiency, but it was Rooney's touch that lifted the goal into the realm of the extraordinary.

"Over 90 minutes he was right back to his best," the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said. "He and Louis Saha were a right handful." Agreeing it was Rooney's best performance of the season, he added: "There were some signs he was coming back, and the two internationals helped him get the required number of matches to bring the right pitch to his game."

Wigan Athletic's manager, Paul Jewell, concurred. "He is a fantastic player," he said. "Anyone who has a modicum of football nous would know that if he was not playing as well as he can, he's still a world-class player. Any team without him is a lesser team."

A lesser team would just about sum up United's first half, in which, Rooney apart, they played with a coherence and understanding that suggested they had been spending too much time watching England. Wigan took less than five minutes to profit, and although Patrice Evra was unlucky to concede a free-kick when the ball reared up and hit his hand there was nothing fortunate about the free-kick that followed. Denny Landzaat tapped the ball, Kevin Kilbane teed it up, and Leighton Baines cracked a shot from 25 yards past a flimsy wall and the diving Edwin van der Sar.

Arjan de Zeeuw would have piled on the embarrassment for the visitors if he had made better contact with a header after 14 minutes, and the game was nearly a third over before United showed signs of fluency. Almost inevitably, the lubricant was supplied by Rooney. A cross from the left from Evra was chested down by the England striker, who lost Baines with a dart one way and a touch to the other before crashing his shot against the bar. Jaded? Every striker in the country would love to be so poor.

Rooney was flowing, but it took the introduction of Ryan Giggs at half-time to allow the rest of the team to follow. Suddenly there was width and space where there had been congestion, and United were transformed.

Solskjaer was just wide after 46 minutes, Saha pulled his shot badly, but it had become a matter of how United would score rather than if, when they finally struck. Giggs's inswinging corner caused a bout of ball-watching in the Wigan defence and Nemanja Vidic headed in powerfully from seven yards.

That had been a bread-and-butter dead-ball goal, but the visitors' second score, after 65 minutes was admirable. Rooney, now brimming with impish confidence, crossed from the left, Saha stretched a long leg to bring the ball down and, in an instant, he had flicked the ball into the net.

With that the game was over. "We were battered in the second half," Jewell conceded. "Annihilated."

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