Belfast Telegraph

Wayne Rooney hits back at critics with star display

Man United 4 Feyenoord 0

By Tim Rich

"It seems the media want to write my obituaries," Wayne Rooney said after photographs emerged of the England captain looking dazed and bewildered at someone else's wedding. "I am not finished."

Rooney has been a declining force but there are nights on which he can shine and this was one of them. He scored the first, provided the pass for Juan Mata to clip home the second and you would have to possess a heart of ice to begrudge Rooney his moment. One more goal will equal Sir Bobby Charlton's goalscoring record for Manchester United.

Topped off by Jesse Lingard's stoppage time fourth, this was as convincing a performance as United have produced this season. To qualify for the knockout phase of the Europa League, Manchester United will have to avoid defeat against Zorya Luhansk. There are many places other than Ukraine in winter that Jose Mourinho would rather be but his journey in the Europa League is unlikely to end there.

From his seat in the analyst's chair, Gary Neville had remarked that what Mourinho badly needed was a "statement win". He had yet to fell a big beast in his time as Manchester United manager, although but for Olivier Giroud's last-minute equaliser, he would have had his usual win over Arsene Wenger.

This, as everybody at Old Trafford knew, could be a statement defeat.

If Feyenoord were to beat them as they had beaten them in the De Kuip in September, Manchester United would be out of Europe before Christmas. There are times when the Europa League can appear an almighty irrelevance. This felt big.

If his absence from successive Manchester United starting line-ups would have fired Rooney's determination, the furore surrounding his early-morning drinking and piano playing as an impromptu wedding-party guest would have hardened his zeal. The only riposte was to score.

It was a goal the Rooney of old would have scored.

He began the move in his own half, taking the ball off Rick Karsdorp, and then driving forward with all his old hunger. His pass found Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, as Rooney ran into the box for the return, his marker, Renato Tapia, was given a slight shove, slipped and allowed Rooney the space to chip the ball over Brad Jones. Facing a Dutch team, he had now overtaken Ruud van Nistelrooy as Manchester United's leading scorer in European football. His manager showed not a flicker of emotion as the ball struck the net. Rooney showed plenty.

But for some very agile goalkeeping from Sergio Romero, another thirty-something might have seized the evening.

During his time on Merseyside, Dirk Kuyt had become the first Liverpool player since Peter Beardsley in 1990 to score a hat-trick against Manchester United. Now, after Romero had palmed away Karsdorp's shot, the fisherman's son from Katwijk sent a shot the goalkeeper somehow kept out through a combination of glove and outstretched leg. Feyenoord's captain flung his hands through his tousled blond hair.

Those that had come from Rotterdam to support his team were loud and boisterous having marched en masse from the city centre. Some of them may have drunk enough to win an invitation to a Rooney wedding and, long after the start, smoke from their flares hung around Old Trafford like a rolling fog.

Feyenoord's other ex-Liverpool player, Brad Jones, enjoyed far less of a reputation at Anfield than Kuyt.

Here, however, the Australian made two fines saves, tipping a shot from Paul Pogba into the Stretford End and then, after the interval he pushed a delicate chip from Juan Mata into the East Stand.

For United's third, Jones was beaten by his own efforts as what must have been a cross from Ibrahimovic struck the keeper's boot and deflected over the line.

And Lingard emerged from the bench to top things off with a pinpoint drive, dispatched via the base of the post to put the seal on a victory that will have given United fans much reason for genuine optimism.

Man Utd: Romero, Valencia, Jones, Blind, Shaw, Pogba, Carrick, Mata (Rashford, 70 mins), Rooney (Depay, 82 mins), Mkhitaryan (Lingard, 82 mins), Ibrahimovic. Unused subs: de Gea, Rojo, Ander Herrera, Fellaini.

Feyenoord: Jones, Karsdorp, Dammers, Van Der Heijden, Nelom, Tapia, Kuyt (Berghuis, 61 mins), Vilhena, Toornstra (Basacikoglu, 78 mins), Elia, Jorgensen (Kramer, 73 mins). Unused subs: Par Hansson, Vejinovic, Woudenberg, Nieuwkoop.

Referee: Manuel Grafe (Berlin)

Man of the match: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Match rating: 7/10

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