Sunday, February 28, 2010

Manchester United holds the Carling Cup

Rooney, on as a 42nd minute substitute for Michael Owen, headed home in the 74th minute to ensure last year's winners retained the trophy - the first time United have successfully defended a cup competition.
James Milner gave Villa an early lead from the penalty spot only for Owen, who started the game in place of Rooney, to level things up on 13 minutes with a classic strike.
But inevitably it was Rooney who grabbed the headlines, the England striker continuing his recent electric form with a 12th goal in nine games.
Villa raced out of the blocks at a soggy Wembley and took the lead in just the fourth minute, Milner sending Tomasz Kuszczak the wrong way from the spot after Gabriel Agbonlahor was upended by Nemanja Vidic in the box.
It was not the last time Vidic, who bafflingly got away without further punishment, looked suspect during a shaky first half, particularly when faced with the pace of Agbonlahor and Ashley Young.
But Villa's lead lasted just eight minutes, with Owen restoring parity soon after.
Rooney's appearance on the bench came as a surprise - he was suffering from a slight knee complaint - yet in Owen, Ferguson not only had a natural born finisher to call on, he had a player who was desperate to make an impression in what was a rare start for him.
And what an impact the striker made in front of the watching Fabio Capello. As he has on occasion this season, he rolled back the years with a tremendous finish past Brad Friedel after Richard Dunne's pockets were picked by Dimitar Berbatov.
But, just as it looked like the 'Owen for England' bandwagon was about to be fired up once again, the wheels promptly fell off as he limped off with a pulled hamstring before the end of the first half.
Nevertheless, Owen's goal had served to spark United into life, and the Premier League champions went on to enjoy the better of the opening period, despite sighters from James Milner and Emile Heskey which Kuszczak was forced to deal with.
Park Ji-sung nearly made United's slight superiority count in first half stoppage time, the South Korean's crisp strike pinging back off the upright after Stephen Warnock had slipped on the greasy turf, allowing Antonio Valencia to deliver a cross.
And United emerged for the second half in similarly determined mood, Michael Carrick's effort from the edge of the box matched only by Friedel's excellent save four minutes after the restart.
Valencia in particular was on fire after the break, and it was the Ecuadorian's lofted cross which Rooney met with a looping header over Friedel - similar to his first against Milan in the Champions League - to put United into the lead.
Rooney could have added another four minutes later - again with his head - but his downward effort from a standing position cannoned back off the base of the upright with Friedel beaten all ends up.
Villa briefly threatened to grab a late equaliser as the clock ran down, Kuszczak having to backpeddle furiously to tip a deflected cross over his crossbar on 82 minutes, but United never looked like being beaten for a second time.
So it proved as United held on to finally avenge their defeat by Villa in the 1994 final.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Manchester United came from behind

Manchester United came from behind to win a thrilling Champions League last-16 first leg 3-2 away to Milan thanks to a Wayne Rooney headed brace.

Milan took an early lead through a deflected Ronaldinho volley only to see a fortunate Paul Scholes strike level matters before half-time.
Rooney finished both headers brilliantly for a 3-1 lead before substitute Clarence Seedorf, who had replaced starter David Beckham, flicked in at the near post to set up a late charge from the hosts.
Michael Carrick was sent off after picking up a second yellow card in injury-time.
The vociferous home fans were given an electric start by their side when Brazilian magician Ronaldinho, in form and always with an eye for the quickest route to goal, watched the ball drop near the corner of the box.
His volley to the near post was covered by Edwin van der Sar but struck Carrick and spun in past the Dutchman's outstretched leg.
The chance had arrived following a Beckham free-kick from near halfway on the right which was almost cleared by the scissor-kicking Patrice Evra. Beckham, facing his boyhood side for the first time, was restricted to angled drives from deep throughout his 72 minutes on the field.
United saw a fair bit of the ball but struggled to create anything in the final third whereas Milan were more incisive on the counter, led by the resurgent Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato.
The former went past Rio Ferdinand on the edge of the box following a couple of stepovers and could have had a free-kick or even penalty as he was blocked off the ball.
At the other end Rooney was becoming frustrated by Nani's inability to deliver an accurate cross. The striker was booked before the break.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar fired wide for Milan after spinning off Ferdinand and on to a Massimo Ambrosini pass and it looked like only one side would be capable of scoring on the night.

United had not scored in four visits to face Milan in the San Siro in Europe, but that was to change on 36 minutes when Scholes angled into the penalty area.
Darren Fletcher, played in by Park Ji-Sung on the right, found his run and the ball came off Scholes's supporting leg after he missed his volley with his right foot.
Ronaldinho tested Van der Sar with a dipping strike after turning away from a double United challenge in midfield and he also went close 16 minutes into the second half, a dipping strike just palmed past the far post.
Before that Andrea Pirlo's perfect strike from 35 yards out was also tipped away by the keeper while Pato headed over from a Giuseppe Favalli cross when left unmarked near the penalty spot.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Manchester United hits Five in Portsmouth

Manchester United roared back to the summit of the Premier League table with a 5-0 thumping of crisis club Portsmouth at Old Trafford.

It took 40 minutes for the champions to break the deadlock but once Wayne Rooney hit the back of the net with his 21st goal of the season, Pompey's resistance faltered and the floodgates opened.
In-form Nani forced an own-goal out of Anthony Vanden Borre on the stroke of half-time before Michael Carrick's shot took a hefty deflection off Richard Hughes to register a third 14 minutes after the restart.
Dimitar Berbatov added a fourth on 62 minutes before a third own-goal, this time a spectacular effort by the unfortunate Marc Wilson, completed the rout seven minutes later.
The result saw United rise above Chelsea into top spot, where they will stay at least until Sunday's big clash between the Blues and Arsenal.
Pompey, who this week were taken over for a fourth time in 12 months, remain rooted to the bottom of the pile, six points adrift of their nearest rivals.
As expected given the 18-place gap between the two sides going into the game, United were dominant from the outset, easily keeping possession of the ball and barely allowing Pompey out of their own half.
To some extent that was by Pompey's design, as boss Avram Grant opted to play with just Frederic Piquionne up front in the hope of catching the hosts on the break.
It is a situation seen often enough at Old Trafford - sometimes it works for the away team, but more often than not it fails.
This time it worked for a total of 40 minutes as Pompey stood firm in the face of a constant barrage of crosses into the box and United were frustrated in their attempts to find a way through.

Yet, despite their territorial advantage, the champions only managed to create two clear-cut goalscoring chances prior to breaking the deadlock, Jonny Evans floating a header wide on 12 minutes before Berbatov conspired to stab wide from close range 10 minutes before the interval.
Pompey even managed to carve out several chances of their own on the counter, Vanden Borre and Algeria international Nadir Belhadj both bringing early saves out of Edwin van der Sar before the World Cup-bound wide man saw a 34th minute effort hacked off the line by Evans.
That last scare prompted United into action and soon after Berbatov's glaring miss they took the lead through Rooney.
The England striker nodded home from close range following Darren Fletcher's excellent ball into the box, although the watching Ray Clemence, England's goalkeeping coach, will not have been impressed by David James's failure to deal with the cross.
At least Clemence will be able to report back to Fabio Capello that Rooney's robust form is showing no signs of ending. Only three times in Premier League history have United players scored more than Rooney in a season - Ruud van Nistelrooy, twice, and Cristiano Ronaldo. And it is still only February.
United soon doubled their advantage, Nani forcing an own-goal for the second time in a week after some devilish trickery on the left led to his cross taking a cruel deflection off Vanden Borre and beating the wrong-footed James at his near post.
Two-nil up and the writing appeared to be on the wall, but there was still time before the break for Pompey to head down the other end and claim a penalty when the ball appeared to hit Patrice Evra on the arm.
Referee Lee Mason turned down the appeals and with that went any hope Pompey may have harboured of getting back in the game as United came out for the second half and soon killed it off.
Berbatov signalled United's intentions with a delightful flick to put in Antonio Valencia 10 minutes after the restart - the Ecuadorian's effort was on this occasion well-saved by James - before Carrick's effort on goal took a big deflection off Hughes, looped over James and went in off the underside of the bar.
Three minutes later United got a fourth, Berbatov making up for his earlier profligacy with a low shot that beat James after Tal Ben Haim had given him far too much space to turn and pick his spot.
Pompey's misery was completed on 69 minutes when Wilson netted a third own-goal of the day, a spectacular volley into the roof of the net as he tried to clear his lines from a cross.
The moment summed up Pompey's day, and it would have got even worse had substitute Mame Biram Diouf not blazed over from close range in the 81st minute.
The bedraggled club have now won just once in their last eight Premier League matches - and just one of their last 25 away from home in the top division.
Meanwhile United, as is their tradition, appear to be hitting form just at the right time.