Rooney wonder goal lifts spirits of toiling champions
For all the flak that has come Moyes’s way this season, his handling of Rooney has been impeccable
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United scores during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Manchester United at Upton Park in London at the weekend. Photograph: Tal Cohen/EPA
English football has long overblown the importance of the captain, but on a cold east London evening there was ultimately a sense that it was the performance of the man who filled the role for Manchester United more than their actual victory here that provided this most beleaguered of clubs with hope for better times ahead.
That much could be taken from David Moyes who, a week on from looking as pale as a distressed ghost after United’s wretched defeat to Liverpool, had the glow of a man who knew he had done good in handing Wayne Rooney the responsibility of being United’s skipper against West Ham in the absence of the suspended Nemanja Vidic and his deputy Patrice Evra.
This was not the first time Rooney had been United’s captain but it was undeniably his most eye-catching display with the armband. The 28-year-old was a relentlessly threatening presence until he was replaced by Javier Hernandez late on and scored both his side’s goals, the first of which will be spoken about, and no doubt shown on television, for years to come.
For all the flak that has come Moyes’s way this season – and there has been scope for plenty – his handling of Rooney has been impeccable, with the Scot transforming a disillusioned and out-of-form striker into a seemingly settled and once again lethal presence.
After this win, United’s second in succession after their Champions League triumph over Olympiakos, Moyes stuck to the line that he will not decide on United’s new captain until next season, but equally he gave plenty of indications that Rooney is the standout contender.
In all senses, Rooney was the leader of a United side that performed here with a level of control, invention and purpose that has rarely been seen this season. Granted, the opposition were poor: West Ham mustered just one effort on target, an early header from Andy Carroll that forced David de Gea into a routine save. But United were better throughout and, in truth, should have left Upton Park with a more resounding victory. Stationed alongside Michael Carrick in a makeshift backline, Phil Jones put in another assured centre-half display, while Darren Fletcher dictated play from central midfield with such measure that it is hard to believe he has only recently returned from a debilitating illness. Alongside him Marouane Fellaini had arguably his best game in a United shirt, as did Juan Mata who, after the long-term injury sustained by Robin van Persie, came in to his more favoured number 10 role.
Taking his place was Shinji Kagawa, who also excelled. But ultimately all eyes were on Rooney. Those in attendance had barely made themselves comfortable when they witnessed a moment of stunning ingenuity. Collecting Ashley Young’s lofted ball, Rooney gave James Tomkins the faintest of nudges before launching a 57-yard volley towards goal. The ball sailed into the clouds before coming down and, with West Ham’s goalkeeper Adrian having lost his senses and bearings, bounced once before hitting the net.
Rooney’s second on 33 minutes owed much to good fortune, with the striker in the right place at the right time to convert a poor clearance and score his 15th of the season.