Winning ugly: Wayne Rooney the only star as Manchester United lose their swagger

03 January 2011 10:22
We had waited almost nine months for the moment to pass, and with it went one of the Barclays Premier League's most surprising statistics. No, not Wayne Rooney's first goal in open play for Manchester United in 277 days. You have to go back almost as far as that - April 11, in fact - for Rio Ferdinand's last foul in the Premier League.

'I didn't know about that statistic until a week ago,' said the England captain. 'I thought it was a lie when they told me. I try to nick the ball off people rather than going through them, but sometimes you give away fouls.'

Not very often in Ferdinand's case. Unfortunately for him, it cost United a penalty at The Hawthorns.

Rare sight: Rio Ferdinand's trip on Jerome Thomas was the England skipper's first foul in the Premier League since last April. fortunately for him it wasn't costly as the penalty was missed

And had Peter Odemwingie not fired his attempt horribly wide, had referee Chris Foy pointed to the spot and sent off Gary Neville earlier in the game, United would have been regretting more points dropped this morning instead of a fortuitous 2-1 win over West Bromwich on New Year's Day.

For that they had a resurgent Rooney to thank. For his headed goal, for the corner that led to Javier Hernandez's winner, and for the kind of talismanic performance that became his trademark before an ankle injury against Bayern Munich in March stopped him in his tracks and effectively cost United the title.

That was the last time he scored from open play until Saturday when, ironically, he ended the game hobbling with another ankle injury while still managing to carry his team.

Down but not out: Wayne Rooney came back on despite having to go off with an ankle injury late in the game

The positive way of viewing results andperformances like this is that it defines champions. The ability to winwhen playing very badly. The other way, the half-empty way, is tosuggest that United just do not play like United any more.

They look every bit the average side that caused Rooney so much concern when he demanded reassurances from the club before signing a new contract in October.

He apologised for such temerity over the weekend, but was he so wrong?

United may be top of the table, they may be unbeaten, they may have Nani, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-sung to come back yet, but what appeared to be a temporary loss of form and swagger looks increasingly like the norm.

At last: Rooney had earlier ended his 'open-play' drought with a header to give United the lead

A second away win of the season could not have been less deserved, coming just four days after Sir Alex Ferguson's side had dropped points down the road at Birmingham. Similar problems have been encountered at Fulham, Everton, Sunderland, Bolton and Aston Villa this season.

It will be interesting to see how United perform at home to Stoke on Tuesday night, particularly if Rooney is ruled out by the injury inflicted by Chris Brunt's rash challenge late in the game.

'It was a naughty one, I did catchhim,' admitted the West Bromwich midfielder. 'It was a professionalfoul, I suppose. I was hoping he didn't get me back!'

Getting out of jail: Javier Hernandez was on hand to wrap up the points despite United's below-par performance

Tomasz: I'll quit Tomasz Kuszczak wants to leave Manchester United at the end of the season unless he becomes the club's No 1. Kuszczak, 28, who replaced flu victim Edwin van der Sar against West Bromwich, said: 'I need to see whether the boss wants to play me or sell me. But I definitely want to play.'

That Rooney came back on to the pitchto help out for the final minutes was typical of a player who isfinally getting back to his best. And, for all the criticism, no-onecan accuse United of lacking a fighting spirit.

'We won because we are a team of warriors,' said Patrice Evra. 'Wayne showed his character to stay on the pitch and now I hope he can score more goals.

'You didn't see a great performance today but it doesn't matter. The most important thing is three points. Now we have to beat Stoke, and then people can say United have done well over Christmas and New Year.'

Evra was sporting a big bruise over his left eye. Asked how it came about, he said: 'His name is Nemanja Vidic. He told me after the game that when they say 'Happy New Year' to someone in Serbia, they give them a big elbow in the eye. Thanks Vida!'

 What's that, Sir Alex? Liverpool boss Hodgson looks like he can count on old friend Ferguson for supportDon't compare me to Solskjaer yet! Hernandez keeping his feet on groundCrocked Rooney faces two weeks out after finally ending goal droughtAll the latest Manchester United news, features and opinionAll the latest West Bromwich Albion news, features and opinionSir Alex Ferguson renews attack on agents with claims of over the top demands from sub-standard players

 Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia, Edwin Van Der Sar, Tomasz Kuszczak, Nemanja Vidic, Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-sung, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Nani Places: Manchester, Fulham, Birmingham, Bolton, United Kingdom

Source: Daily_Mail