Rooney ends goal drought as United struggle again
MAN UNITED 2
(Wayne Rooney 66-pen, 84)
Wayne Rooney saved Manchester United's blushes last night.
The Red Devils carved out a 2-0 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford, thanks to the forward's second-half brace.
Used mostly as a midfielder by manager Louis van Gaal this season, Rooney was deployed as a support striker behind Radamel Falcao.
And the 29-year-old grabbed the chance to break a Premiership goal drought that stretched back to Boxing Day last December.
Maybe van Gaal will read Rooney's goals, which came via a spot-kick and a close-range header, as an indication of the England international's most effective position.
Or perhaps he won't.
What he certainly couldn't have missed was the mediocrity of his team's performance prior to the 66th-minute opening goal.
The three points provide instant relief, but they won't cure their ills.
The poor performance is why Man United fans aren't a happy lot lately.
The football hasn't been flowing like it used to.
The big-money signings are not playing at the level which they have been bought for.
The fellow top-four chasers are sniffing around too closely for their comfort.
Van Gaal will continue to be measured against Sir Alex Ferguson's standards, and he ought to be.
But, at the moment, the Dutchman-led Red Devils are nowhere near the teams under the legendary Scot.
There was no fluidity in their play, no incisiveness to their attack, and no cutting edge to speak of.
The backline of four continues to look like one of relegation contenders than one gunning for Champions League football next season.
The only consolation for them in this match, was that Sunderland were in an even worse state.
But it was precisely this, and United's struggle in breaking them down for more than an hour, that were so frustrating for the United fans.
The Red Devils had chances in front of goal in the first half.
However, Ashley Young couldn't apply the killer touch from the edge of the box early on, and he later almost forced an own goal off John O'Shea, whose clearance rocked his own crossbar.
And when they had a three-on-three situation on the counter-attack just before half-time, Angel di Maria attempted a through-ball so shockingly poor that it looked more like a backpass to the Sunderland goalkeeper instead.
But the Black Cats, too, had their opportunities to break the deadlock, with Jermain Defoe and Connor Wickham coming close.
By half-time, the hosts had chalked up close to 70 per cent of the possession, and yet the score remained 0-0.
Van Gaal sent in Adnan Januzaj for the ineffective di Maria at the break, but it didn't seem to help them find their rhythm. Then came the turning point of the match in the 64th minute.
Radamel Falcao's excellent turn fooled O'Shea, who pulled down the Colombian to concede a penalty. It didn't matter to the home fans one bit that referee Roger East perhaps sent off the wrong man - Wes Brown instead of O'Shea - in the process.
All that mattered was that Rooney stepped up to score the goal that gave them room to breathe.
United's domination understandably grew thereafter, and Rooney added his second by heading in a loose ball in the 84th minute after Costel Pantilimon saved from Januzaj.
But the victory felt like a hollow one.
For it still can't mask the cracks that run through the spine of the side.