Rooney's goal drought continues as United held by Newcastle
After bright start, United striker fizzles out and his form is real concern for van Gaal
MAN UNITED 0
He flew out of the traps, hunting down his opponents like a hyena with an ravenous appetite.
The intent was unmistakable: Wayne Rooney was making up for lost time.
Three games into the season, and playing in the striker's role he so craved but was mostly denied by his manager the previous season, a goal still eluded him.
Rooney knew redemption had to come against Newcastle yesterday.
There's no better way than to silence his critics in front of an Old Trafford filled to the rafters.
But it was not to be, as the 29-year-old Manchester United skipper once again toiled in vain, as his side were held to a 0-0 draw by Newcastle.
Three minutes into the match, he must have thought his agony was over.
Latching onto a superb Adnan Januzaj through-pass, he shaped up and sent a precise shot past the onrushing Tim Krul.
The relief, though, was short-lived - the assistant referee raised his flag for offside.
Replays, however, suggested that Rooney was in line with the last Newcastle defender.
But he pressed on. Moments later, he swivelled from long range and fired an attempt at the Newcastle goal, but to no avail.
Then he combined well with Juan Mata at the edge of the box, until Fabricio Coloccini made an excellent intervention.
He certainly looked in the mood. Rooney was rejuvenated, hungry and menacing. Then the engine spluttered, then died.
Ten solid minutes were all he could muster, before he slipped into oblivion.
By now, Rooney's poor form can no longer be put down to ring rustiness.
It is as worrisome as it is frustrating, especially to those who believe they are seeing the obvious.
Quality can't be lost overnight, but relevance doesn't stay still either.
The malaise may not be Rooney's fault alone.
United manager Louis van Gaal appears to be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Rooney cut a forlorn figure up front on his own.
Without natural wingers like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia to feed him the crosses, he struggled to stay in the game.
And when he dropped deep to get more involved, he often ran straight into a crowded area where his presence wasn't required.
At the final whistle, Rooney's goal-less run in all competitions was extended to 858 minutes.
Manager van Gaal is strapped for options, with James Wilson and Javier Hernandez his only other alternatives for the striker's role.
After Rooney fizzled out of the clash, the Red Devils were counting on the supporting trio of Januzaj, Mata and Memphis Depay to make it count.
Depay's average performance, following a superb outing in the midweek Champions League play-off first-leg 3-1 win over Club Brugge, was characteristic of players his age. Rarely do players at 21 master the art of consistency.
Deploying Mata on the right flank didn't curb his instincts to drive through the middle.
Januzaj, operating just behind Rooney, lacked the know-how to link midfield and his front man.
All these circumstances resulted in plenty of pretty possession play by United. The only thing missing, and the most important element too, was the cutting edge in front of goal.
The Magpies, on the other hand, came with a game plan, stuck to it and were nearly rewarded for their discipline and tenacity.
One big chance in each half had the United defence scrambling back in desperation.
It could have been worse for van Gaal's men, but it definitely should have been better than this.
Van Gaal will be tempted to sort out the problem through the transfer market, and he still has slightly over a week to do so.
Or he can embark on the tougher assignment of altering the structure that supports the apex.
Or he can simply do without Rooney.
For perhaps the first time in his United career, Rooney's place is in serious jeopardy.