Wayne Rooney scored for Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s outfit won at Ibrox. The 25-year-old striker slammed home an 86th minute penalty as United qualified for the knock-out stages of the Champions League with a hard-earned victory over Rangers in Glasgow. It was just deserts for United after dominating the game.
Rooney was largely anonymous in his first start for more than a month but scored the crucial goal after Steven Naismith’s crude late challenge on Fabio da Silva.
True to recent form Rangers defended in numbers for much of the tie, attempting to catch United on the break despite the Scottish champions needing a win to progress in the competition.
Indeed, much as in the fixture at Old Trafford, Rangers frustrated United for large periods only for Rooney’s late goal winning the points for the visitors and the manager’s praise.
“It took courage for Wayne Rooney to take the penalty, it wasn’t the easiest night for him having missed couple of chances,” Ferguson said.
“There’s still some rustiness in his game. We deserved to win tonight and I think we want to go on and win the group. We have Valencia at home and maybe we’ll make one or two changes.”
Ferguson deployed a stronger side in Glasgow than at Old Trafford a month ago, including Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov in a front two. Indeed, the Bulgarian had a decent shout for a penalty just three minutes into the match, with Ricky Foster seemingly bundling over the 29-year-old striker.
In a strong opening 10 minutes for United, Berbatov then headed straight at Alan McGregor when well positioned before Paul Scholes’ 25-yarder was blocked on the edge of the area; the Scots struggling to pick up the Bulgarian when he dropped deep.
Indeed, the tempo of United’s play was far better than at any point during the Old Trafford fixture, although Rooney barely had any influence on the game. Clearly rusty after more than a month on the sidelines, the 25-year-old snatched at a difficult chance on the volley before seeing another shot blocked. Certainly no Rooney of eight months ago.
Rangers though remained typically obdurate, packing midfield and falling back to the edge of the area when under pressure. Pretty it isn’t but Rangers has found a way of not conceding despite the limited budget enjoyed by the Scottish champions.
United’s one touch play continued to impress though, with Michael Carrick and Nani opening up the Rangers defence before the Portuguese fired high over McGregor’s goal. Then the game almost came to life, with Rooney heading against McGregor’s bar from Fabio da Silva’s outstanding left-wing cross.
Yet Rangers arguably created the best chance of the opening period, with Kenny Millar firing straight at Edwin van der Sar from six yards.
Despite Rangers desperately needing the win to hold any chance of progressing the pattern barely changed in the second period, with Walter Smith’s side decamping to its own penalty area whenever United held possession.
Yet Rooney and Berbatov opened up the Rangers defence minutes into the second period, with Carrick unable to beat McGregor when well placed. The Geordie’s form has improved in recent weeks but goalscoring is not one of the 29-year-old’s strengths.
Rangers’ Naismith could have scored though when Jonny Evans failed to clear a routine through ball, requiring van der Sar to save at the Scot’s feet. On such moments can games, even as one-sided as this, be won and lost.
As Rangers seemingly dropped ever deeper United kept possession well but appeared out of ideas, with both Rooney and Berbatov dropping ever closer to the visitors’ midfield. Even Scholes was unable to carve out an opening, being replaced with twenty minutes remaining.
Berbatov, with a shot blocked, and then Rooney, who headed wide, were both well placed to open up the scoring as United sought the win in the final quarter. The Scouser then failed to connect with Berbatov’s sublime lofted pass.
It proved the Bulgarian’s final action of the match, with Javier Hernández replacing the former Tottenham Hotspur star with 20 to go.
Then the winning goal, with Fabio bravely heading towards goal only for Naismith to catch the Brazilian with a wild attempt at the ball.
Rooney gleefully slammed home the penalty to earn United the win and qualification for the knock out stages.
Rangers – 4141 – McGregor; Weir, Broadfoot, Foster, Whittaker, McCulloch; Davis; Weiss (Fleck 80), Naismith, Hutton; Miller.
United – 442 – Van der Sar; O’Shea, Smalling, Evans, Fabio Da Silva; Nani (Obertan 77), Carrick, Scholes (Anderson 67), Giggs; Berbatov (Hernandez 76), Rooney.
Attendance – 49,764
Man of the Match – Carrick
Possession: Rangers 44% – 56% United
Attempts: 7 – 20
On target: 5 – 12
Corners: 1 – 13
Fouls: 8 – 13