Belfast Telegraph

Rooney looks to improve form despite scoring run

By Simon Stone

The Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney has admitted he is not happy with his form despite closing in on his best-ever scoring return.

Rooney's double in Sunday's 4-0 win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford took his goal tally to 31, just three fewer than his personal best haul from two seasons ago. In addition, the 26-year-old will equal the feat of legendary winger George Best the next time he finds the net for United, which will be his 179th Manchester United goal.

With Sir Alex Ferguson's men once again five points clear at the Premier League summit, and only four games to go, it would appear everything in Rooney's garden is rosy. Yet it seems that is not the case.

Immediately after Sunday's one-sided contest, Ferguson claimed Rooney was guilty of being too casual. And, although the striker did not appear to be impressed at being replaced by Dimitar Berbatov straight after his second goal, Rooney accepts his form is not good.

"It was nice to score two goals but I didn't think my performance was good enough," he said. "The rest of my play wasn't great. I am disappointed with that and I will be working hard to put it right."

Rooney's form will be a worry to whoever ends up replacing Fabio Capello as England manager, considering the striker will still be a central figure at Euro 2012 even though he will miss the group games against France and Sweden because of suspension.

United appear to have found a way of coping with any lapses. And, at this stage of the season, results are obviously more important than performances, offering Rooney an additional incentive to match Best's scoring feats.

"It would be great to equal that record and, hopefully, surpass it," he said. "I would be proud of that achievement but I can't really look at it just at the minute.

"If it happens then great but it's the points that are important at this time of the year and if I can score the goals that get those points then I will be pleased."

On the back of a surprise defeat at Wigan Athletic last week and with their lead at the top of the Premier League cut to two points by a Manchester City side that has bounced back from their horror show at Arsenal by scoring 10 times in two matches, United could not have had picked better opponents than Villa.

Although the ailing Midlands club were at best a sporadic threat, they failed to apply any meaningful pressure on the home goal, allowing United to saunter home, in the process keeping their sixth clean sheet in seven games as they have hit their best defensive form just when it matters the most. "Obviously, we were disappointed with our performance against Wigan but we had a chance to get that out of our system and keep that distance between us and Manchester City," Rooney said. "It was a big game for us and we deserved to win."

The theatrics of Ashley Young may not be winning many friends outside of Old Trafford but – as against Queen's Park Rangers a week earlier – it could be accurately claimed there was contact with a defender prior to a dive that brought a penalty.

United can only hope increasingly wary officials do not deny them against Rooney's former club Everton, the visitors to Old Trafford next Sunday, their first game since the gut-wrenching FA Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool.

Victory then – and Everton have not beaten United away from home since 1992 – would set up a derby-day meeting with City on 30 April that offers the chance to seal a record 20th league title.

Celebrating at the Etihad Stadium would add an additional edge to inter-city rivalries, although Rooney accepts there is some work in front of his team-mates yet.

"A month or six weeks ago, if somebody had told me that we would be five points clear at this stage of the season I would have been delighted," said Rooney. "Next week against Everton is another massive game for us. We need to get three points there to make it an interesting night against Manchester City."

Belfast Telegraph


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