Champions League: Wayne Rooney keeps Man United on the right side of history with winning strike against CSKA Moscow
Manchester United 1-0 CSKA Moscow
Wayne Rooney, the emblem of this Manchester United side, had been carrying the can for their failure to score. And as anxiety took a deeper hold of the night, it was Rooney who fumbled the game's best chance.
Yet when it mattered, the man around whom Louis van Gaal has shaped this faltering team left his imprint, equalling Denis Law's record of 237 United goals to boot. Only 12 to go to draw alongside top man Sir Bobby Charlton.
Has a goal ever been so warmly received? And this after David de Gea had conjured a magical intervention to deny CSKA on the break.
And so United's first goal in 404 minutes takes them to the top of Group B. Helpfully in Holland, PSV blew the group wide open with victory over Wolfsburg. Maybe the wind is changing direction.
The opening minutes were awash with urgency and intent. Rooney spun on a cross from Marcos Rojo, shooting narrowly wide.
Two minutes later, a dodgy backpass saw Rooney sniffing out a chance but again no luck. Jesse Lingard went down heavily in the box yielding optimistic penalty claims.
The best chance of the half fell to Rojo. Beautifully picked out by Ashley Young, the Argentine had a rare, unfettered sight of goal and let fly convincingly with a left-foot volley yet still no cigar.
It was better from United but not enough to relieve the joyless state that United have become under Van Gaal. Players complaining of a flat dressing room, fans reeling at their team's soporific adhesion to a ball going nowhere, and former players rolling despondent eyes in studios.
United came into this game without a celebration in five hours and 25 minutes.
Van Gaal's solution to his attacking inertia was to start with Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger, both excellent footballers but not a sprint in either. Young, a winger, started at full-back. He did at least have Anthony Martial up top with Rooney.
Van Gaal asks for patience and advises that this colourless, odourless phase is a necessary part of the process. The defence is sorted, it follows therefore in the logic of Van Gaal that the attack will be next. It is a strange process that only he, it seems, believes in or understands.
It is worth reminding ourselves that football is just a game, entertainment, escapism. This message was powerfully reinforced with a message of condolence in English and Russian for the victims of the downed airliner travelling from Egypt to St Petersburg, the Russian city twinned with Manchester. Ironic cheers greeted Rooney when he passed the ball into the empty net 10 minutes after the restart.
Martial played him in but was already offside. The longer the wait went on, the greater the risk of neurosis taking hold. The idea that a goal would never come no matter what United tried came easily to mind.
The removal of Martial for Marouane Fellaini with 25 minutes to go was met with widespread boos. The quickest player in red removed for the slowest. To be fair to Fellaini, he featured in the most fluent performances under Van Gaal last season.
At that point the benefit of the doubt was a luxury afforded to Van Gaal. There is little of that now. This is the Dutchman's project.
Rooney's goal came in the 79th minute when Lingard volleyed Carrick's long pass across the box for the captain to head home.
The fans were steadfastly behind the team last night, but it is hard to see how much longer they might put up with Van Gaal's staid template.
Mind you, Van Gaal was not to blame when Rooney fell over his own feet when easier to score after great work from Juan Mata. For too long, it was the story of the night.
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Schweinsteiger (Herrera 89), Mata (Depay 74), Rooney, Lingard, Martial (Fellaini 66).
Unused subs: Jones, Romero, Darmian, Pereira.
Goal: Rooney 79.
CSKA MOSCOW: Akinfeev, Figueira Fernandes, Berezutski, Ignashevitch, Schennikov, Dzagoev (Panchenko 85), Wernbloom, Tosic (Golovin 75), Natcho (Doumbia 55), Milanov, Musa.
Unused subs: Chepchugov, Vasin, Nababkin.
Man of the match: Lingard
Match rating: 5/10
Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland)