Rooney rescues United
By Mark Buckingham
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Wayne Rooney bagged a brace as Man Utd beat Portsmouth 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Wayne Rooney proved himself to be Manchester United's saviour with a double against Portsmouth, after a disjointed display earned the hosts a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.
The England international scored towards the start of the first half, and the end of the second half, to ensure United closed the gap on leaders Chelsea to six points.
Gary O'Neil's looping volley just after the interval gave Pompey a squeak of causing an upset but they were undone by a touch of magic from Rooney nine minutes from time.
Tim Howard was given a chance in goal, following Roy Carroll's gaffe in midweek while Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand were rewarded with the day off as Ruud van Nistelrooy continued his quest for match fitness with his first start in three months.
The tempo of the first half barely rose above walking pace as United, comforted by the early goal, seemed to scent that Pompey were struggling to rise to the challenge.
United forced a corner inside 30 seconds, with Kostas Chalkias making an easy claim from Cristiano Ronaldo's looping header, while the visitors responded with Yakubu Aiyegbeni tamely shooting wide from distance.
On eight minutes, The Red Devils nosed ahead after Pompey failed to deal with a throw-in on their left flank.
Gary Neville eventually received the ball back and he floated in a cross which eluded Arjan De Zeeuw and was swept clinically home by Rooney.
From there, United attacked sporadically but without great purpose, as Portsmouth looked at each other, more in hope than expectation, for some form of inspiration.
Robust defending at the near post shut out van Nistelrooy after clever play from Paul Scholes but, in the ensuing scramble, Pompey were only saved by a linesman's flag.
Rooney shot wide from 25 yards before turning provider to play his role in the chance which should have made it 2-0 five minutes before half time.
His deep cross found Gary Neville unmarked at the far post, the full back tucked the ball back for Ronaldo who wastefully shot over the bar.
Pompey had the appearance of a team who had come to Old Trafford on a work's outing but they did offer a whimper of resistance just before the break when a short corner routine ended with De Zeeuw heading wide under pressure.
Portsmouth emerged from the break with a renewed vigour and they were back on level terms within two minutes. A jittery United back-line failed to clear the ball, which dropped invitingly for O'Neil 25 yards from goal and he struck a swerving volley which arced beyond the dive of Howard.
Almost immediately, the same scenario came to the fore at the opposite end of the pitch. Pompey dallied in clearing the ball and were almost punished as Rooney's rasping volley whistled just wide.
Ryan Giggs was summoned from the bench to add greater spark to United and his first act was to curl a free kick wide, while Rooney was likewise off target with a shot from outside the area.
Pompey substitute Valery Mezague prompted Howard into his first save of the match on 75 minutes before van Nistelrooy's header, on the stretch, provided Chalkias with a comfortable stop.
The hosts' frustration spilled over when Phil Neville got involved in a pushing match with Matthew Taylor before United got themselves out of jail ten minutes from time.
Van Nistelrooy showed great control and awareness to feed Rooney, who nipped beyond a defender, feigned a shot to leave Chalkias on the floor before rolling the ball into the net, much to the relief of a nervy Old Trafford crowd.
Click here for Man Utd v Portsmouth player ratings.
|Manchester United||Team Name||Portsmouth|
|4||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||3|
|7||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||3|
|16||Total Fouls Conceded||18|