Belfast Telegraph

Quiet night on Old Trafford pitch for Wayne Rooney

By Frank Malley

For once, Wayne Rooney will not be the headline story.

He had the quietest of matches in Manchester United's goalless draw against Rangers. There was no prolonged abuse from the travelling fans. No real moments of magic from Rooney. No sense either that the adverse publicity of the past week has had any noticeable psychological effect.

Indeed, his most effective contribution was in acting as chief sympathiser when the unfortunate Antonio Valencia was carried off after appearing to break a leg in an innocuous tangle with Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot in the second half.

It was that sort of night at Old Trafford. Dreadful for Valencia. Frustrating for Rooney. And sobering for United manager Sir Alex Ferguson whose gamble to utilise an usual line-up played into the hands of the Scottish champions.

Ferguson made 10 changes from the starting team which drew against Everton on Saturday. It was an arrogant decision in football's most prestigious competition. As it turned out the wrong decision. Nought out of 10 for Ferguson, you might say

It suggested Ferguson did not rate this fixture as the most arduous of tasks in a Group C which also includes Spain's Valencia and Turkish champions Bursapor.

On paper, perhaps you could see his thinking. In Scotland, Rangers are expected to win every match. In the Champions League they have now not won in their last 11 matches, not since beating Lyon 3-0 in 2007.

And the gulf between the top of the respective premier leagues in Scotland and England has become cavernous these past few years.

But why take such a liberty in the Champions League, especially against Rangers, a club with huge pride and tradition plus an experienced manager in Walter Smith?

It was never pretty. Rangers did not go to Old Trafford with the intention of playing fancy football. They went to build a bridgehead. To dig in with players like Kenny Miller and Madjid Bougherra and David Weir shedding buckets of sweat in the cause.

They rode their luck at times but in the main their organisation and discipline and doggedness was impressive and a tribute to Smith and his assistant Ally McCoist. United pressed, but never with enough pace. They never took Rangers out of their comfort zone and the Scottish champions were happy to soak up the pressure with a blue wall 30 yards from goal.

Darron Gibson fizzed in a couple of long-range shots but United never had enough menace. Never enough guile or penetration with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes left on the bench.

Even when Giggs came on for the unfortunate Valencia it was not enough to open up a Rangers defence which was expertly marshalled by that wily old fox Weir.

Before the match Ferguson had described the Champions League as "The best tournament in the world."

Often it is, but not in games like this.

It was a night which required patience. A night for men such as Gibson and Darren Fletcher and Fabio and Chris Smalling to prove themselves. To play themselves into a weekend encounter against Liverpool perhaps.

In truth, they were found wanting. They were not good enough to open up Rangers. But do not blame them. Blame Ferguson. The Champions League is the best tournament for a reason. It is because it contains the best teams. Ferguson should have played his.

Belfast Telegraph

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