Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair proves the star turn at Wayne Rooney return

By Simon Peach

Paddy McNair may be struggling to secure a place in Manchester United's first team but he was in goal-scoring form for the Under-21 side last night.

McNair slotted in a second-half winner to helped United's young guns take a huge stride towards retaining the U21 Premier League title with a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough at Old Trafford.

The 20-year-old impressed in Northern Ireland's midfield against Wales and Slovenia and from a central position he dazzled again.

After delivering on the international stage, McNair told the Belfast Telegraph he could prosper in midfield for United and he added weight to that argument with another magnificent performance last night with Louis van Gaal watching on.

But McNair's goalscoring exploits weren't enough to grab the spotlight as it was the game that featured Wayne Rooney's return from injury.

Rooney and McNair could now be in the running to take on West Ham in the FA Cup semi-final replay tomorrow night.

Rooney played for an hour as planned and Phil Jones came through the entire 90 minutes unscathed as Warren Joyce's side took the points.

It was Rooney's first appearance since February 13.

The 30-year-old England captain was his usual lively self, leading the line and popping up in deeper midfielder positions before spreading the play.

At one point he won the ball back on halfway and burst forward to arrive in the area as a delivery came in from the left.

Prior to his substitution for Axel Tuanzebe in the 61st minute, there was no sign of Rooney struggling with his energy levels.

Rooney had three attempts on goal in total and only one found the target as he struggled to get his eye in.

Meanwhile, United's humbling at Tottenham may have been painful, but Juan Mata is not wallowing in self pity ahead of one of the most important matches of the season.

A six-minute flurry saw Van Gaal's men downed 3-0 by title-chasing Spurs on Sunday, seriously denting their hopes of a top-four finish.

It left "a particularly bitter taste" for Mata but his focus now is on United's return to the capital tomorrow, when they face West Ham.

"Conceding three goals in just seven minutes is tough to take for everyone, especially when you feel that you were doing a few good things before that moment," Mata said. "I think it's fair to say that during the first-half the game was even.

"We had a good start and they pushed in the last few minutes before the break.

"However, the first goal was very painful for us and the opponent took advantage of it.

"I think it's good to play the next game as soon as possible, on Wednesday, because it allows the whole team to move on from White Hart Lane and focus completely on the match against West Ham.

"It's actually one of the most important games of the season and we can't afford to feel sad or upset when we are preparing for it.

"On the contrary, we must be aware that in the Boleyn Ground we have a fantastic opportunity to make it to Wembley and give our fans what they deserve: a reason for some sort of joy this season."

Belfast Telegraph


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