Patrice Evra has urged Manchester United fans not to forget about Wayne Rooney.
Once again Robin van Persie took centre stage on Tuesday night, scoring twice to ensure United were able to overturn yet another first-half deficit as they recorded a 2-1 Champions League win over CFR Cluj in Romania. It followed on from his match-winning hat-trick against Southampton last month, and the nerveless late penalty at Anfield as United ended their winless streak at Liverpool 10 days ago.
In comparison, Rooney has been in the shadows. Dropped after a lacklustre opening game at Everton, then injured, his fitness questioned and the debate fuelled by comments in his own autobiography that actually related to four seasons ago, Rooney only returned to the fray against Newcastle last week. Since then though, his influence has grown steadily. And whilst Van Persie grabbed the goalscoring headlines on Tuesday night, it was Rooney who claimed the assist on both occasions. Little wonder therefore that Evra wants the praise to be spread slightly wider than he feels it is at the moment.
"People criticise really easily," said Evra. "They were talking about Robin so much I thought we've just got one striker. "Robin's an amazing player and that's good but people mustn't forget what Wayne Rooney has done for this club. "He's a big, massive player and looked really sharp last night. "When someone new comes, everyone is excited and forgets the old things. But Wazza will show it to everyone."
Evra was joined in his praise of Rooney by Van Persie, who was eager to spread the credit for his personal haul. "Rooney played very well," said the Dutchman. "He gave me two excellent assists. It is really good that he is back."
United have copped plenty of flak already this season, mainly due to the difficulties they are having at the back. The situation has not been helped by a lengthy injury list, which the club's medical staff are working manfully to keep Jonny Evans off. Evans sustained a dead leg against Tottenham at the weekend which he did not look comfortable with on Tuesday night and eventually forced him to limp off. As Ferguson pointed out, Evans now has five days to get fit for the Premier League trip to Newcastle on Sunday, otherwise he will be forced to throw in rookie Scott Wootton or use Michael Carrick as an emergency central defender. Yet even Evans' availability is no guarantee of greater solidity as, for the third game out of four, and the sixth time this season, United found themselves behind. In a half-time interview with ITV, Ferguson branded the goal "an absolute shocker".
Privately, he was probably rather less diplomatic. "We can say we have strong character as we always react. But, in football, we have to act not react," said Evra. "It is not funny when we go behind. We want everything perfect and it bothers us. "It is not a worry but it is a bad habit." If there is a positive to be gleaned from the negative, it comes from Evra's fervent belief that Tuesday night's performance was not in the same category as that Tottenham debacle, which he still struggles to explain."
"The difference on Saturday was we only played for 45 minutes," he said. "That first half against Tottenham was just unbelievable. I don't have an answer for it. The space and everything was so poor." Solutions must come quickly as Newcastle, though they were beaten in the Capital One cup at Old Trafford last week, are more than capable of inflicting major damage to United's title ambitions. In the corresponding fixture last season, the Magpies romped to a three-goal triumph that prompted a major inquest in the Red Devils' ranks.
It is not an experience Evra has any wish to repeat. "We had a meeting after that game at Newcastle last season," he said. "We had to talk with each other because it was not the way we respect the shirt of Manchester United. "We don't want another wake up call. "We know what happened last year. We know the experience up there and we have to be ready from the first minute of the game."