United come back to beat Blackburn 4-1
Wayne Rooney's miserable few days continued in the form of two glaring first-half misses, but with his team-mates in such form, coming from behind to beat Blackburn emphatically, he was able to disappear for fiancee Coleen McLoughlin's twenty-first birthday party last night with his club still well on course for the title.Michael Carrick, Park Ji-Sung and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer provided the decisive goals that earned United three priceless Premiership points, but it was the performance of the player who scored the equaliser, Paul Scholes, which was the rallying point for United. Few, if any, observers noted Scholes's absence from the England team as a factor behind their abysmal form this week, but Steve McClaren will be well aware of how his team could have used his services.
Even United's current injury curse - Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic the latest to be lost with a shoulder injury that will sideline him for four to five weeks according to Sir Alex Ferguson - does not seem capable of applying the brakes to United's triumphal march towards yet more silverware.'I think we looked like a championship side,' said Ferguson. 'You would expect a championship team to show that kind of nerve, determination, drive, resolve. We had all that today. Everything you are looking for in a football team was there. There are just seven games to go - that makes me nervous now. But, without question, that was one of our best performances of the season and throughout the game they had a lot of handicaps. They had just come back from internationals, they had to overcome being 1-0 down, so to keep making chances and to keep their nerve and show their composure was fantastic.'
All true, although for the first 45 minutes, it was a very different United display, and one that had Old Trafford legend Mark Hughes daring to dream of another Blackburn upset against his mentor. Matt Derbyshire compounded such belief before the half hour as Carrick turned Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross against his own keeper and post and the young forward reacted sharply to open the scoring.
But the second half? It was a different story, much to the frustration of Hughes. 'They are champions elect and they are good value for it,' said the Rovers boss. 'This year they have played the best football, the most expansive game, and this game was a key game for them. They sensed that, the crowd sensed that and they knew we would give them a real test today. I feel we did that, to a certain extent, and I feel from this point onwards they will go on and win it comfortably.'
United looked like a different team from the kick-off after the break, Scholes orchestrating play in the centre, Ronaldo tormenting Rovers down either flank and an equaliser soon looked a formality. Hughes' mood in conceding it would not have been improved, however, by Christopher Samba losing possession on the edge of his own area to Scholes after 61 minutes. The midfielder skipped past Ryan Nelsen and Stephen Warnock before finishing convincingly.
That goal was the catalyst United needed to go on to comfortable victory and, after Brad Freidel saved superbly from Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs then struck the bar with the goal at his mercy, the rout was on.
In the 73rd minute, Ronaldo surged past Tugay on the left and his cross reached Carrick at the back of the area, who had the presence to steady himself and score with a precision finish.
Ten minutes later, Ronaldo provided the creative spark once again - his thunderous free-kick being parried by Friedel for Park to slot in the rebound - and, in the final minute of normal time, substitute Solskjaer appeared unmarked on the end of Park's cross to fire home unopposed and wrap up an impressive victory for the hosts.
'The reason United are top of the league and champions-elect is that they are able to galvanise themselves when they are struggling,' added Hughes. 'When they are struggling to find a little bit of form, they are able to get themselves together and go again. That's certainly what they did in the second half.'
Still, there surely must be some concern over Rooney's form over the past eight days. Twice, with the score goalless, the young striker had only the excellent Friedel - a strong candidate for man of the match despite leaking four - to beat but struck the ball against the keeper on both occasions. If United are to win the treble, which Ferguson insists is only a distant possibility, Rooney will surely have to rediscover his form.
Domestically, for the time being, there is no such need with his team-mates playing in this manner.