Rooney’s goal in pictures

php23MluxAs he raced to the corner flag, the cares of the world seemed to slide from his shoulders. He threw back his arms and closed his eyes while the demented din cascaded down the slope of Old Trafford.

When Wayne Rooney is an old man, he will remember this moment.

Already, the reel is running through millions of minds.

It is the 78th minute and the ball is being played back and forth across the face of the Manchester City goal.

Nani, on the right, floats a cross which is marginally deflected, and we become aware that Rooney is backing off his marker, giving himself the room to do something wonderful.

Manchester United V Manchester CityLater, he will tell us that he thought ‘Why not?’ when the ball was in flight.

It is the kind of thing that the great ones ask themselves: ‘Why not?’

At every stage he knew precisely what he was doing.

He took off, contorted in the air and watched the ball on to his right foot.

It was a preposterously athletic manoeuvre for such a thick, heavy body, but he knew what he needed to do.

The contact was explosive, the direction impeccable, the result devastating. It was a goal fit to win a derby, to secure a title, perhaps even to salvage a drifting career.

Many years ago, George Best performed one of his own miracles at Old Trafford.

A writer in the Press box asked: ‘Did anyone get the time of that goal?’

An older, wiser colleague set him straight. ‘Never mind the time, son,’ he said. ‘Just remember the date.’

That is how it was with Rooney’s masterpiece yesterday, a goal that gave Manchester United a 2-1 victory over their City rivals.

Rooney would later try to put his achievement into context. He thought he might have scored a better goal when he was at school, but he could not be certain.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson mentioned a Rooney goal against Newcastle a few years back, but he shook his head, declining the comparison.

Ferguson said it was probably the best he had seen, and if there is higher praise then football cannot imagine it.

To appreciate the sheer splendour of that score, we must recall the poverty of Rooney’s performance until the 78th minute.

He had done his share of chasing and scurrying; the least of players can do that. And he had never hidden from responsibility, since that is not his way.

But nothing would happen for him and with the frustrating minutes ticking past, his face was creased with anxiety.

At first he seemed angry with himself, then anger yielded to depression.

SOCCER Man Utd 38A few minutes earlier, we saw a revealing little cameo. John O’Shea ran perhaps 50 yards into an aggressive position on the right. Rooney was on the ball in a central position and he registered O’Shea’s demand.

But he rejected the obvious ball, choosing to slash a hapless drive into the legs of a defender.

O’Shea waved his arms in fury, Rooney scowled. It was quite out of character for such a selfless player and we sensed that only desperation could have driven him to such a lapse of judgment.

At that stage, United were in danger of yielding ground to City and the rest of the pack as they strove to preserve equality.

They had existed uneasily through a first half in which David Silva had frittered the simplest chance to give City the lead in four minutes and the influential Yaya Toure had wasted a header at the far post.

United were struggling to find even a semblance of form, with Ryan Giggs persistently inaccurate and Paul Scholes largely anonymous.

At this stage they drew heavily on the defensive resourcefulness of their captain Nemanja Vidic, who himself was drawing an increasingly impressive performance from Chris Smalling.

They were flattered by the lead they secured in 40th minute, even if the quality of the goal was memorable.

Smalling played a part in its genesis, and Giggs struck his best, and practically his first, incisive pass of the match.

But essentially it belonged to Nani. Racing on to the ball, Nani’s silky touch took him clear of his marking defender. He kept his head, worked out his angles and placed his shot beyond Joe Hart.

City brought on Shaun Wright-Phillips for Aleksandar Kolarov in 52 minutes, and his darting persistence started to make a difference.

They deserved the break from fortune with their goal in the 64th minute. A Wright-Phillips cross gave Edin Dzeko, another recent substitute, the chance to swing a foot. The ball struck Silva and took an alarming deflection into the opposite corner.

A few moments earlier, Roberto Mancini had raced to the touchline to ball his fury at Wright-Phillips. Now he reacted with the swagger of a man who had designed the goal to the last detail.

With a little more boldness, City might have gone on to take the lead and the points. But Carlos Tevez was left to toil unaided at the front and, with Smalling turning in a display which grew with the game, he perished through lack of support.

Even so, they seemed comfortable with and deserving of their point, and as it reached the closing stages we sensed it would take something out of the ordinary to earn the victory.

It was then that Nani floated his cross, and Rooney asked himself the question. ‘Why not?’ indeed.

As the match ended and the title moved into sharper perspective, the United players ran to him one by one.

First Vidic, then O’Shea, Smalling, Edwin van der Sar.

They knew what the moment had meant to Manchester United, and what it meant to Wayne Rooney.

As for the rest of us, we shall boast that we were there when a troubled young man worked his redeeming miracle. It will warm the memory through the winters to come.

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