Wayne Rooney scored four to fire Manchester United to the Premier League summit, as Old Trafford rocked to the sound of a green and gold chorus. Hull City frustrated the home side until a tidal wave of late goals gave the scoreline a semblance of reality as Sir Alex Ferguson’s pre-match call for unity was widely ignored.
Following two weeks of financial turmoil, culminating in a £504 million bond issue by the Glazer family, Ferguson used his programme notes to call for a United front: off and on the pitch.
But the Scot’s demand fell on deaf ears as the United faithful gave a rousing match-long rendition of “we love United, we hate Glazer,” while donning the colours of Newton Heath in symbolic protest.
“The family of Manchester United is under pressure as a result of all the issues surrounding the ownership and financial situation of our club,” Ferguson noted in United Review.
“Some of our fans are clearly unhappy with our financial position, but we mustn’t allow the situation to become divisive.
“The danger is that we could be presented as being split, which would be harmful and inaccurate, because I believe the vast majority of United fans are behind us and appreciate the importance of standing together in support of the team.”
Any sense of charity towards the fans matched that in the Scot’s team-sheet, which included Rio Ferdinand for the first time since 25 October, but lacked the rested Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov. Ferguson confident that almost any United eleven is good enough to beat Phil Brown’s strugglers.
Inevitably Rooney, the talismanic striker so brilliant against Manchester City in midweek, opened the scoring on eight minutes, beating Boaz Myhill after the Hull ‘keeper parried Paul Scholes’ 25-yard shot. The Scouser then took his goal tally to 20 for the season with a rapid-fire hat-trick in the final 10 minutes of the match.
In between, United’s profligacy, far more than Hull’s endeavor as Ferguson generously noted post-match, kept the visitors in the match. Ji-Sung Park and Michael Owen in particular were guilty of wasting chances that would have finished the game well before the half time break.
With the bright Nani creating opportunities, and Berbatov adding some potency on 70 minutes, United finally brought the sword down on limited opponents in the twilight of the contest.
First, Rooney latched onto substitute Darron Gibson’s pass, before firing past Myhill from 12 yards for his second. Moments earlier Nani had smashed an effort against Hull’s bar.
Then the Portuguese winger, who has fallen out of favour with Ferguson following a series of inconsistent performances, provided the cross for Rooney’s hat-trick, which the former-Evertonian powerfully headed home.
Wrapping up the match and his personal hoard, the England international scored in stoppage time to take his goal tally for the season to 20.
“Without doubt those four goals were the highlight for me,” Ferguson said of Rooney, who is now just three goals short of his best ever haul for the season.
“He has been wanting to develop himself as a scorer and there were some terrific finishes today.
“He has always been a main player for us, from the moment he came to the club. He never gets left out.”
Rooney, though, is exactly the type of player that Ferguson will no longer bring to the club in the new financial reality. Seditious as the Old Trafford atmosphere has become, this is a truth that has rapidly dawned on many United supporters in the past week.
The Scousers’ performance – and that of Nani who had his best game in a United shirt this season – dragged United to the Premier League summit. In the short-term at least, United fans left Old Trafford happy.
The question now: can a full-scale rebellion be quelled by a table-topping team or has a point of inflection already been scaled?