Rooney again the inspiration


English FA Premiership / Aston Villa 0-2 Man Utd: It is said that there are no certainties in football, although Manchester United winning whenever Wayne Rooney scores and Aston Villa rolling over at the mere sight of Alex Ferguson's side are quickly dispelling that myth.

Not since 1995, when Alan Hansen erroneously proclaimed "you'll never win anything with kids", have United suffered defeat against Villa. It is a record that never looked under threat here as arguably the greatest kid of them all gave another performance of extraordinary maturity and breathtaking quality to provide United with a second restorative victory in the space of five days.

Oozing with confidence and bursting with energy Rooney in this mood is simply unplayable. Indeed such is his astonishing influence on this United side that it seems apposite to ask whether Ferguson's team would be capable of winning anything without him. Their embryonic relationship has yet to bring silverware, of course, though a League Cup quarter-final against Birmingham City tomorrow night offers a window of opportunity.

Not that United have given up hope of reining in the Premiership leaders Chelsea, who would surely be out of reach with Rooney in their side. "I think everybody in the world wants a player like him, not only Chelsea," said Edwin van der Sar, United's goalkeeper. "He works hard for the team up front but also in midfield and sometimes defensively also, so he's a great asset for United."

Rooney's goal here was his ninth in the Premiership this season and his 27th since he joined from Everton in August last year - United have won on every occasion he has found the net - though his contribution stretches way beyond scoring. Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-sung both should have embellished the scoreline after benefiting from the 20-year-old's vision. The young firebrand is not so forgiving in front of goal as he showed with a clinical 12-yard shot that cannoned in off the post early in the second half.

It was the type of finish that appears effortless to the England forward, who later showed his technical dexterity with a superbly executed overhead kick that Thomas Sorensen scrambled to safety. They were moments that had even Villa's manager eulogising about his talent.

"It is a pleasure watching Wayne Rooney when you are not involved in the game," said David O'Leary. "I have never known a lad of such a young age when you can say, 'If he plays well, Manchester United play well.' If he is not in the England side, England are not as good. He is that certain breed who seems perfectly happy to be training morning, noon and night and you get the feeling he would be spitting his dummy out in anger if Alex Ferguson dared to call him off for a rest in the 85th minute."

The United manager ought to have done so, if only to save Villa from further humiliation. Slovenly in possession and devoid of belief, O'Leary's side were totally outplayed. Milan Baros did hit the bar and Gareth Barry screwed a shot narrowly wide though they were rare attacks that failed to disguise Villa's deficiencies.

"We're disappointed that we didn't at least try and stop them," said Mark Delaney. "I don't think there was that many tackles and I don't think we got in their faces. We have to hold our hands up and say they were the better side by far."

United's supporters evidently saw it that way too. Located on two sides of the ground, they opted to taunt each other as opposed to the home fans, perhaps reasoning their opponents had suffered enough. This was United's seventh consecutive Premiership win against Villa and Ruud van Nistelrooy can only have been referring to the M6 when he said Villa Park "is a hard place to come".

The Dutchman must wish that he could play against Villa every week. His 10th-minute goal, delicately lifted over Sorensen after Darren Fletcher's reverse pass, was his eighth in his last eight appearances against them, a tally he could have increased.

Sorensen produced a fingertip save to deny Van Nistelrooy when he acrobatically hooked goalwards and Cristiano Ronaldo's audacious cross late on was wastefully headed wide.

Park had been more unfortunate when he struck the upright inside seven minutes, but the woodwork only delayed the inevitable as Rooney's ubiquity quickly debunked O'Leary's theory that packing the midfield would nullify United's threat.

"Wayne can find space anywhere," said Delaney. "It's hard to pick him up. We tried that and it obviously didn't work."

Guardian Service