Rangers 0 Manchester United 1
Wayne Rooney was the man who made the difference in last night's game against Rangers which, along with the result in Valencia, sent the home side into the Europa League. On his first start since signing a lucrative new contract did what he is paid to do, score. Returning to the staring line-up for the first time following a long-standing ankle injury, Rooney sent Allan McGregor the wrong way after Fabio had been fouled to give the visitors a decisive spot-kick near the end. For Rangers, there was no way back and Valencia's hammering of Bursaspor in Spain condemned them to the Europa League next year. The prospect of playing in that competition will not be troubling United, or Rooney whose vow to win over his club supporters with his performances on the field could not have got off to a better start. Sir Alex Ferguson had flagged this up as Rooney's first start since the beginning of October last week. The interim period has seen the striker enjoy a holiday with his wife in Dubai and get put through a week's conditioning work in Oregon in his battle to recover from his well-publicised ankle injury.
Rooney had not scored for his club in open play since the opening goal in a Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich last March. He came very close to ending that dismal return just before half-time, when he rose to meet Fabio's near-post cross, only to guide his header onto the roof of Allan McGregor's bar. It was by far the closest anyone came to breaking the deadlock in a game that was better than the goalless meeting between the two sides in September - but only just. Rangers routinely had seven men within an imaginary five-yard line to the most advanced United forward, which offered their visitors hardly any room. On the single occasion United's skill got them through, thanks to intricate passes from Ryan Giggs, Nani and Michael Carrick, the chance went begging when Nani drove his first-time effort over with what looked like a toe-poke. Rangers did cause their opponents some anxious moments. Kenny Miller, who once scored a winner for Wolves against these opponents, was the main threat. But he has not scored at this level of the game in 14 attempts and one header went harmlessly wide before a United defence, lacking rested duo Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, let Miller shoot from an acute angle rather than offering an opening to square. It turned out to be the correct decision as Edwin van der Sar made an excellent feet-first block.
As Valencia had virtually wrapped up victory by the break against Bursaspor, Rangers knew they needed to win to survive, which might have led to a more enterprising approach. United were the ones with the extra class though and Rooney was not that far away from putting them ahead with a 25-yard free-kick. Dimitar Berbatov then wasted a decent opportunity, failing to connect properly with a volley that normally would have expected to put McGregor in trouble. Carrick was next to get a sight of the Rangers goal and he at least tested McGregor with a low shot which the Scotland keeper beat away. The growing pressure around the home box led to Rangers trying some of their own moves and Steven Naismith almost profited from some suicidal defending by Jonny Evans, who needed van der Saar to come to his rescue with a brave block. Impressive in the first meeting, McGregor was an obdurate presence once more and he denied Berbatov's angled drive with a neat save to his right. Rooney's luckless night continued when he blazed a long-range effort over, then he headed a Giggs' cross wide just after Berbatov had a goalbound shot blocked. It appeared it was not to be Rooney's night when another opportunity sailed wide but five minutes from the end, Naismith made a rash challenge on Fabio and offered the striker a chance to start repaying United supporters in the only currency they really care about.
Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba net)
Admin Team (admin@scottishfitba net)
This is ScottishFitba Net