Wayne Rooney scored twice, the first an astonishing 58-metre volleyed contender for Goal of the Season, as Manchester United won their second game in four days by brushing aside West Ham United 2-0 at Upton Park on Saturday.
The two first-half goals moved Rooney, 28, above Jack Rowley into third place on United’s all-time scoring chart with 212 behind Bobby Charlton (249) and Denis Law (237).
The England forward struck his astonishing first goal in the seventh minute from just inside West Ham’s half after winning a battle for a loose ball with central defender James Tomkins. Rooney, skippering the side, glanced up and saw Spanish goalkeeper Adrian off his line before blasting his shot high into the air and watching it bounce before landing in the net.
Rooney joked that the effort was even better than David Beckham’s famous goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996 and the former United midfielder, watching in the directors box, gave a big smile of recognition as it went in. Asked about his wonder strike, Rooney said: “I think it’s just instinct. I’ve turned, had a quick look and seen the goalkeeper is off his line. I’ve tried that many times but thankfully it’s gone in. “You try them in training, you try it in games, but it’s not often they come off. When they do it’s great for me and the team to put us in such a position.”
The current, transitional United side are nowhere near the heights United reached when Charlton and Law were in their pomp, but neither did they look like a team teetering on the edge of a crisis with their manager David Moyes about to lose his job.
They appeared well organised in defence, quick on the break and far too good for the home side who have now lost 10 of their last 11 Premier League games to the visitors.
West Ham had chances and Andy Carroll’s aerial power posed a number of threats but midfielder Michael Carrick, playing in an unusual central defensive role, handled him with the assurance he showed in that position years ago as a teenager.
Last weekend United were savaged for a woeful performance in a 3-0 home loss to Liverpool which left the defending champions 18 points behind leaders Chelsea with nine matches to play. That gap remains following Chelsea’s 6-0 thrashing of Arsenal, their biggest victory over their London rivals, in the lunchtime sunshine in west London earlier on Saturday.
But in east London on a cool spring evening United continued to restore some pride and belief in themselves following their 3-0 victory over Olympiakos Piraeus on Wednesday that saw them qualify for the last eight of the Champions League. “Today was a good result after last week (against Liverpool),” said Rooney. “I think the win on Wednesday against Olympiakos has given us all a big lift and you could see today the confidence running through the team.”
Moyes made six changes from the team that beat the Greek champions and was without hat-trick scorer Robin van Persie who will be out for up to six weeks with a knee injury.
However, United were still the better team from the start and never looked back once Rooney opened the scoring. He doubled the lead after 33 minutes when he ran the length of the pitch in a United counter-attack. As the ball broke out wide to Ashley Young on the right, Rooney continued his advance into the box and was in the perfect place to steer home Mark Noble’s poor clearance first time.
The result puts United within 11 points of fourth-placed Arsenal and, while qualifying for the Champions League may still be beyond them, they will face neighbours Manchester City in Tuesday’s derby at Old Trafford in far better spirits.
SPURS WIN FROM 2-0 DOWN
Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a stoppage-time winner after Christian Eriksen’s double as Tottenham Hotspur stormed back from 2-0 down to beat Southampton 3-2 in the Premier League on Sunday. Sigurdsson converted Denmark midfielder Eriksen’s layoff to keep alive Spurs lingering hopes of a top-four finish. They are fifth on 56 points, six behind fourth-placed Arsenal having played one more match.
In Sunday’s other match at Villa Park, Stoke City came from behind to beat Aston Villa 4-1 and climb to 10th in the table on 37 points from 31 matches, one place and three points above their defeated opponents.