Wayne Rooney scored as Manchester United cruised to victory over relegation-threatened West Ham United at Old Trafford with a vibrant performance. After the disappointing draw with Fulham last weekend, United regained momentum in a Premier League title race that is already beginning to take a familiar shape.
The weight finally lifted and fitness levels creeping towards a sharpness not seen before his injury against Bayern Munich in March, Rooney can now enjoy a new level of freedom from press scrutiny. For the time being at least.
After all, Rooney has traditionally scored in bursts, and with the drought counting now ended, the Scouser is now liberated to fire United towards a strong start to the season.
While United’s talisman opened the Reds account from the spot, Sir Alex Ferguson reserved special praise for Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes, outstanding against Avram Grant’s side, alongside the lively Nani.
“Dimitar and Paul Scholes orchestrated that victory,” added Ferguson, whose side remain unbeaten this season.
“They deserved their standing ovation and Dimitar’s goal was excellent.
“You have to win your home games and we are back on track after dropping those two points at Fulham last week.
“It is too early to say what formation the league is taking at present but the usual suspects are up there.”
Yet the game threatened to fall as flat as the Old Trafford atmosphere in the first half, with United’s possession not converted into goals in front of the Stretford End.
Grant’s side, hardly obdurate in the opening games of the season, demonstrated much of the fight it will need to avoid the drop come May. Rob Green, the much derided now former-England goalkeeper, Matthew Upson and Danny Gabbidon did much to keep United’s attack at bay.
As the half wore on Scholes, the returning Ryan Giggs and Nani on the right wing exerted ever greater influence on the match though. Indeed, shortly after Nani had hit the bar, Scholes found Giggs on the left, with the Welshman far too good for former United player Jonathan Spector, who gave away the spot kick. Rooney duly converted on the half hour.
The Reds doubled the advantage minutes into the second half as Old Trafford finally warmed to the occasion if not the weather. Nani started and finished a smart move, smashing a left foot shot past Green into the top corner. The goal had all the hallmarks of Cristiano Ronaldo; the heir apparent now firmly crowned.
Then the dénouement as Nani beat two West Ham defenders before teeing up Berbatov to score with an acrobatic finish. The Bulgarian, still not without his frustrations, has outshone his strike partner in the early season matches.
“Strikers want to score, but it is Wayne’s performance that we should be talking about,” added Ferguson.
“He was full of life and energy. He worked his socks off. He needs games but the 90 minutes will bring him on.”
“I thought his overall game was much better, he looked a lot stronger and we look forward to him playing for England now and coming back fitter,” added assistant manager Mike Phelan.
West Ham meanwhile remain rooted to the foot of the table having lost its opening three matches. With games against Chelsea, Stoke City away and Tottenham Hotspur coming up there was more than a touch of gallows humour about the travelling support.
They’ll need it.
United, on the other hand, head into the international break with the mood lifted after the recriminations of last week’s draw. Tougher tests lie ahead, of course, not least an away trip to Goodison Park, followed by Rangers and Liverpool at Old Trafford after the break.
Rooney, fit and now scoring goals, will at last relish the upcoming matches.
United: van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Evans (Smalling, 74), Evra; Nani, Scholes (Carrick, 74), Fletcher, Giggs; Berbatov (Owen, 74), Rooney.
Man-of-the-match: Dimitar Berbatov
Possession: United 54% – 46% West Ham
Attempts: 11 – 7
On target: 7 – 2
Corners: 8 – 2
Fouls: 3 – 5