Champions League - Rooney pen seals United win
Wed, 24 Nov 21:57:00 2010
Wayne Rooney converted a late penalty to guide Manchester United to a 1-0 win over Rangers and clinch qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League on a bitterly cold night at Ibrox.
The striker was still not at his sharpest but marked his first start since the high-profile contract wrangle with the winner and a joyous celebration in front of the away fans.
United controlled a lot of the game but struggled to find a way through the home side's determined defence with 40-year-old David Weir in formidable mood.
But Fabio was kicked in the face by Steven Naismith with three minutes left, after the Red Devils had been denied a clear spot-kick only two minutes in, and Rooney sent Allan McGregor the wrong way from the spot.
United should have had a penalty as early as the second minute when Dimitar Berbatov was tripped from behind by Steven Davis. Referee Massimo Busacca, even with the help of an official behind the goal, somehow thought otherwise.
It was a scary moment for the Gers but they were rarely troubled for a long spell afterwards as McGregor caught a tame header from Berbatov from a Fabio cross in a rare moment of activity for the keeper.
The Red Devils were caught napping at a Davis free-kick as Weir nodded on for Kenny Miller but the lone striker couldn't get any direction on his header and it failed to work Edwin van der Sar.
With Berbatov looking at his moody worst, United failed to make the most of their possession although Nani mustered a toe-poked shot that flew well over the top after a one-two with Michael Carrick.
Five minutes before the interval, Rooney came close by leaping to meet a Fabio cross and clipping the top of the bar with a header. Although it never looked likely to go in, it was a sign that he is capable of rediscovering his top form.
Soon afterwards, Miller had another great opening for the hosts as he collected a Naismith pass and bore down on van der Sar's goal. From an improbable angle, he opted to shoot against the Dutchman's legs rather than squaring to an unmarked Vladimir Weiss and it was poor judgement on the forward's part.
For all United's superiority in terms of keeping the ball, their probing was failing to hurt the Rangers rearguard and Walter Smith's side seemed capable of snatching a goal either on the break or from a set-piece.
In the second half, Rooney swept a free-kick wide after Nani bought the set-piece from young Kyle Hutton and the England striker then sent a brave header to McGregor after beating Weir to the ball.
Berbatov continued to toil as his sliced volley was embarrassingly bad from a Ryan Giggs centre but the Bulgarian combined with Rooney to set up Carrick, only for the midfielder to fire unconvincingly against McGregor from a promising position.
At the other end, hesitancy by Jonny Evans let in Naismith and he got a toe to Richard Foster's through ball but Van der Sar was in close proximity and blocked well.
It was another warning to United but they carried the greater threat with Nani picking up a misplaced pass from Weiss and driving against McGregor's legs before Rooney ballooned a poor attempt into the stands.
Berbatov had a shot blocked by the impressive Steven Davis and Rooney dived to head Giggs's cross wide when the Welshman returned the ball into the danger zone as it looked as though a goal would never come.
Rooney again showed his touch has not returned as he swiped at a volley that barely reached McGregor following a neat scooped pass from Berbatov.
Just when the game appeared to be drifting towards another goalless draw, Fabio threw himself at a diving header inside the box and was caught by Naismith's boot. Referee Busacca pointed to the spot and booked Naismith - much to the home team's frustration. Rooney kept his cool to steer the ball into the corner of the net and he charged off to slide in front of the travelling supporters.
The England striker almost created a second when Kirk Broadfoot sliced his cross over his own goal with substitute Javier Hernandez lurking and United comfortably held out for the remainder of the match.
So United progress and need to avoid a defeat by two or more goals to Valencia to top the group. A clean sheet will see the three-times winners set a new record for not conceding a goal throughout the group stages.
Rangers at least have the consolation of Europa League football and the knowledge that they competed well and stifled United over the two games.
All the focus will be on Rooney and this is a step in the right direction in terms of winning over his critics.
CL: ITW Ferguson