Manchester United’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford is a lesson – as if really needed – in Sir Alex Ferguson’s over-whelming hunger for silverware this season. This is far from a vintage United side, stripped of it’s best players in the summer and again now through injury, but don’t let Ferguson hear you say that.
Understandably the Scot kept news of Rooney’s injury under wraps on Friday, despite later admitting that the young Scouse striker had suffered a groin strain during training on Thursday.
It’s an injury that may keep United’s 34-goal forward on the sidelines for the two remaining fixtures – away at Sunderland in a week’s time before the season’s dénouement at Old Trafford 9 May.
Such is Rooney’s importance to both the tactical and mental side of United’s make-up this season that fourth-placed Spurs would surely have taken a huge boost from news of the striker’s absence.
Not without just cause . United post Rooney’s ankle injury in the Allianz Arena three weeks ago, has a decidedly flat feel to it.
Indeed, Bayern’s “beautiful defeat” and Chelsea’s linesman-aided victory at Old Trafford together with the underwhelming draw at Blackburn Rovers all but ended United’s season.
At least that was the script.
Thus to Spurs and with Harry Redknapp’s Champions League hopefuls having beaten both Chelsea and Arsenal within a week, form and Rooney’s absence might fairly point to the first result for the Londoners at Old Trafford since 1989.
But Redknapp’s side and more importantly United each reverted to type. It is now 67 ties since White Hart Lane’s finest has beaten any of the top four on the road – a remarkable record for a club that traditionally lies just outside the cartel.
Whatever the merits of United’s charge towards a fourth straight Premier League title or Spurs’ claims on a place in Europe’s elite, the home side emerged victorious as much for its mental strength as technical merits.
Patrice Evra’s insistence on playing on while depositing his breakfast on Old Trafford’s well-manicured turf was admirable. That Nani repeated the trick only underlined a squad-wide desperation to beat Chelsea to the title this season. Rooney or not.
Determination that shone through not only on the pitch but the dugout too.
Ferguson’s tendency to roll the dice once again bore fruit. The gambler’s instinct always pervades and in hauling off Rafael da Silva – no mug on the day – for Federico Macheda and shifting Darren Fletcher to right-back, the Scot pulled off the match-winning substitution.
Indeed, the Italian’s astute pass to set up Nani for United’s second goal demonstrated maturity beyond his limited tenure in the game.
That Rafael celebrated the goal with the gusto of 70,000 other United supporters said much of team spirit within the camp in the final days of the Premier League season.
If the Brazilian teenager failed to keep his cool the same cannot be said of Ryan Giggs, who twice beat Heurelho Gomes from the penalty spot as if it mattered little more than a training ground kick around.
“His experience showed in the end because he took two really good penalties,” said Ferguson Giggs’ decision to take his first Premier League penalties in more than 20 years at United.
“We played well, that was important, but most important was we kept our nerve.”
Indeed, with Rooney absent United stood taller than many expected.
Meanwhile, Chelsea face Stoke City today, with captain John Terry missing following his dismissal against Redknapp’s side last weekend.
The Londoner’s mental strength is in doubt, having blown more opportunities to seal the title this season than Carlo Ancellotti should forgive himself for.
If the Potteries club pull off a result few will be surprised.
“I hope Chelsea are feeling the pressure,” added Ferguson.
“We have two games left, we are top of the league at the moment and we have done our job.
“Who is to say what is going to happen?
“Now we will have to see what Chelsea can do.”