Christmas Gifts From Rooney
It was a fitting game for Christmas - which, of course, has already passed. But still, it seemed that players were in the mood for handing out gifts, none more so than our Wayne Rooney.
Hull, our opponents of the afternoon, were spirited and determined and their efforts to disrupt our football were quite efficient. It worked well on Rooney who covered plenty of ground but gave the ball away way too often in the first 30 minutes as United pressed and created chances but showed great vulnerability at the back. In truth, both Boateng and Hunt could have opened the scoring in a very open first half - but United were the more dangerous side.
Our cause was helped immeasurably by the fact that Fergie could field an almost full-strength side. Rafael, Brown and Vidic were all rushed back so that for the first time in weeks we had a back four consisting exclusively of defenders. Their lack of match fitness was obvious and it has to be said that Vidic and Brown never formed a good partnership - there's a lack of organisation when both Van der Sar and Ferdinand are out.
But young Rafael played very well and had he not been shocked by finding himself clean through on goal he could have given us the lead after an amazing run through the middle and some fine one-touch passing involving Berbatov and Carrick as well. But defensively, we weren't great while in attack we kept on squandering chances: Giggs, Rooney, Berbatov and of course Rafael all had good opportunities. We could not capitalise even when Boaz Myhill fluffed a backpass (Christmas spirit, again) and it went straight to Giggs but eventually Rooney was crowded out.
Just when it looked certain that the first half would end goalless, Fletcher (who was excellent in the first half alongside a somewhat off-colour Carrick) got the ball on the right flank, he whipped in a low cross which Rooney turned in from close range. Christmas gift for our fans at last.
I guess Fergie instructed the troops to keep possession better in the second half and for a while they heeded this. Hull kept on pressing and harassing though and it made the game a real scrappy affair. But their way was vindicated when Rooney was hurried into handing out another gift: a horrible backpass which Kuszczak had no chance to get as Fagan got there first, he crossed to the far post where Altidore ran into Rafael and fell over. It was never a penalty but of course Wiley could not resist such an opportunity after what happened in the aftermath of our 2-2 draw against Sunderland.
Fagan converted the spotkick and suddenly we were struggling, our composure gone. It did not help that Giggs had one of his worst days and that Fergie, inexplicably, withdrew Valencia and brought on Park not long after the equaliser. True, Antonio did not sparkle but his pace caused some trouble and he looked likely to be able to exert some influence on the last 20 minutes.
In the end, it was a flowing counter-attack after a Hull corner - for they attacked with more and more courage as the game progressed - which put United back in front: Park released Berbatov who passed for Giggs. The Welshman threaded a perfect through ball into the path of Rooney who sent in a low cross which Park would have turned in but Dawson, keeping in with the Christmas spirit, tapped it in for him.
This destroyed Hull: their fire has gone out. It looked as though they lost all hope after conceding again which is not surprising, considering their recent scoring record which is abysmal. And United, finally, shunned the whole Christmas thing: we ruthlessly finished the job. Rooney who played with insane determination after his blunder ran half the length of the pitch to get on the end of a Brown header. Then he sent an incisive and precise pass between the legs of a defender which Berbatov tapped in at the far post.
And that was it. Rooney had an error-ridden game but with one goal and two assists you cannot really knock him. United looked rusty and not that great but we created plenty of chances and played some good football. It was a deserved win and a much-needed Christmas boost. We are only two points off the pace, as Chelsea can't win games to save their lives which is sort of amusing - we had the biggest injury crisis imaginable and they still could not pull away. Hopefully we'll show a bit more consistency in 2010. And hopefully they won't.