United's resilience rewarded

 

Everton 0, Manchester United 2: Peter Kenyon may already be squirming uncomfortably. If hackles were raised from Highbury to Old Trafford at the Chelsea's chief executive's preposterously bold prediction that this season's title winners would come from "a small bunch of one", then Saturday brought reassurance in triplicate for Manchester United that his conviction is misguided.

A year of frustration may not have been erased by this impressive victory but already United appear a more potent prospect. Without a Glazer in sight, Alex Ferguson unveiled solidity and bite at each Dutch tip of his team to eradicate some of the more obvious frailties of a trophyless term. Yet, despite the contributions of Edwin van der Sar and Ruud van Nistelrooy, it was the youthful genius most reviled in these parts who propelled United to a victorious start.

Wayne Rooney boarded the visitors' coach at the end here with three points, a goal and a broad grin to infuriate those locals who had waited on Goodison Road intent on spitting more abuse at their former hero. The vitriol washes over him these days, with opponents just as incapable of breaking the England striker's resolve on the pitch. Everton had swarmed all over the 19-year-old attempting to suffocate his threat but, in this mood, Rooney is irrepressible.

"He was always quick but his appreciation of the game is better now and improving all the time," said the home captain David Weir. "He's beginning to learn where he can be dangerous and hurt you and that makes him so difficult to play against.

"He's a fantastic player at a fantastic club and it's frightening to say it but he can only get better. He's already achieved a lot but there's definitely more to come. I think he's starting to believe he's one of the best players in the world and he's putting in the performances to justify that. He doesn't just stand up front and make it easy for you. You never really know where he is."

Weir's fellow centre half, Joseph Yobo, clearly had no inkling 29 seconds into the second period when his sloppy pass across his own area, played blind and behind his captain, fed Rooney who slid in United's critical second goal. "Rooney scored a touchdown," came the ironic chants from the visiting fans.

"It was probably the easiest I've ever scored," said the forward. "The goal killed them off. We were just so keen to get off to a winning start. There have been one or two comments about only one team being in it but it's rubbish."

Ferguson's side lost here in April, battered into submission by Everton's greater resolve. Confronted by the same impressive endeavour this time around, they boasted the steel to survive. Van der Sar, who slipped in barely noticed from Fulham, conjured a fine save from Tim Cahill's header when the game was still goalless. Last year United might have been breached; this time their resilience went rewarded.

With the interval approaching, Rooney skipped on to possession, delayed his pass, then freed the galloping John O'Shea down the left with the Irishman's slick cross rammed emphatically home by van Nistelrooy in the six-yard box. United missed the Holland international's bite through his injury traumas of last year, the manner in which he crept ahead of Weir in the centre a reminder of the haul he may plunder this time around.

Everton were spared further punishment in stoppage time when van Nistelrooy's cross-shot eluded Rooney and Gary Neville in the centre but by then the damage had been done. David Moyes will not be panicked by successive defeats to Villarreal and now United. His side retained all the qualities which hoisted them to fourth last season, though it remains to be seen how they will cope should they fail to reach the Champions League proper.

That disappointment, along with an awkward run of league fixtures to open the season, might drain confidence but there was encouragement in the energy of Marcus Bent and the busy Simon Davies and Phil Neville in midfield. The striker battered against the bar soon after his introduction for the injured James Beattie. Cahill should have converted at least one of the headed opportunities he contrived.

"Evertonians are realistic," said Moyes, whose own £5 million central defender Per Kroldrup will undergo surgery on a groin complaint this week. "I think they hope this season will be as good as last year but I've always said I don't think I can change things here right away. Hopefully you can see the signs are there we are moving in the right direction but I don't think anyone's going to get carried away with things."