You need quality and luck to win any football match, and Manchester United had both in Sunday’s Carling Cup final against Aston Villa at Wembley.
You would not have thought they needed was this: Wayne Rooney starts on the bench, Wayne Rooney comes off the bench, and Wayne Rooney scores the winner.
Such is the form of Rooney it does not come as a surprise that pre-match talk centred on him and if he could deliver on this stage yet again, considering the fantastic season he is having. However, to the shock of Wembley and the television pundits, Rooney found himself on the bench. Coming on for the man who replaced him in the starting line-up, Michael Owen, due to the first United goal scorer getting injured, was surreal but it was meant to be written for Rooney- such is the way of his season so far.
The match could have been so different and the cup could have had claret and blue ribbons on it. The incident that changed the game came in the fourth minute when last man Nemanja Vidic hauled down Gabriel Agbonlahor warranted a straight red card- Vidic did not even get a yellow. Beggars can’t be choosers so even though Aston Villa got a penalty, and James Milner took it nicely to put them 1-0 up, they will quite righty feel that 10-man United would have struggled to get back in to the match.
United started slowly as it was, regardless of the fact that Vidic was a lucky man to still be on the field, and their usual passing game was not up to their standards. The Wembley pitch looked heavy and the players had to be more assured with their touches than they usually would. Openings were created before Owen scored the equaliser due to United finding space in between Villa’s midfield and defence.
For the goal, Dimitar Berbatov’s run to go in to the box highlighted that and his slip meant Richard Dunne had the chance to clear but only to fall himself, thus allowing the ball to roll to Owen on the edge of the box; he duly finished first time in to the bottom left-hand corner in typical fashion.
Ji-Sung Park hit a post for United in what was the only notable piece of goal mouth action for the rest of the half. The other being that United, with all their experience, were beginning to take control of the game and this continued in the second-half when they dictated the pace, kept possession and forced Villa to defend in numbers. This was a problem because the Red Devils kept getting to the edge of the Villa box only to find the final pass letting them down, along with good defending.
The goal was a change in all of that. Antonio Valencia had the chance to run at the defence and played a neat one-two with Berbatov which resulted in him getting that extra space to send over a cross for Rooney, who else, to head home what turned out to be the winner. The header was delightful. It came as he arced back, under pressure from defender James Collins and rose to place it right in the top corner.
Sir Alex Ferguson was full of praise for the talisman. After the game he said: “It wasn’t a bullet header, but it arced under the bar – it was really well placed. Wayne’s in that kind of form- he’s scoring so many vital goals for us.”
Winning the trophy meant a great deal to United, who became the first ever team to retain the league cup. Losing it hurt Martin O’Neill badly and was visibly annoyed at the ref’s decision to keep Vidic on the field of play. The fact that Villa were always in the game and did not bottle it on the big occasion should serve them well for any appearances they make at Wembley in the future.
The final word goes to Wayne Rooney. Not only is he a scouser who is now truly loved by mancs in red, but he performed by scoring the winner, in a cup final, at Wembley. He is head and shoulders above the rest.
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