United arrived in Glasgow knowing that a point would be enough to send them through to the last 16 of the Champions League, however as is the United way, a strong team took to the field in search of a win. Wayne Rooney returned to the United starting line up for the first time since signing his new contract and with the intention of regaining the fans trust. United also welcomed back Ryan Giggs to the starting line up after his 6 week lay off, a great boost for United as we come into the busy part of the season.
As expected, Rangers piled men behind the ball, and were contented to sit back and absorb pressure without really displaying any attacking initiative whatsoever. United laboured in attack however, with Rooney often trying too hard to impress, rather than just allowing his natural talent to flourish. Things could have started brilliantly for United had the ‘5th official’ managed to see Berbatov tripped in the area after 3 minutes, and given what was a stone wall penalty. Despite constant United pressure, the best chance of the half fell to Kenny Miller, who one on one with Van Der Sar could not convert what would have been a priceless goal.
The second half saw the game follow a similar pattern, with the young United defensive duo of Evans and Smalling having a very easy night, and allowing Carrick and Scholes to run the game in midfield. Again Rangers were content to sit back and absorb the pressure, as they did so successfully at Old Trafford in September. Rooney greatly improved in the second half, and was almost rewarded after some brilliant work from Fabio on the left, he picked out Rooney only to see his header strike the bar. And minutes later, Rooney put Carrick through on goal with the keeper with a superb lay off, only for his shot to be well saved by McGregor. United couldn’t be faulted for their effort, but there appeared to be a distinct lack of confidence in the final third, and as the clock ticked down another frustrating stalemate drew closer.
However, as if the script had been written, United were salvaged in the 87th minute as the referee awarded an overdue penalty for Steven Naismith’s high tackle on Fabio Da Silva. Up stepped who else but Rooney, and he unleashed 5 months of frustration into the bottom corner of McGregor’s goal, guaranteeing United’s qualification to the next round. Rooney chose to celebrate emphatically, charging over to the United fans and savouring the moment, if that goal really didn’t mean a lot to him, that was an oscar winning performance.
Although I, like every other United fan, was deeply hurt by the way Rooney handled his contract situation, there is no denying that he is integral to the long term success of this United side. As long as Rooney can show the passion, commitment and goal scoring form he’s capable of, then United will be confident of regaining the title from Chelsea, and seriously competing in Europe again. It was also very pleasing to see solid performance’s from Chris Smalling and Fabio, both of whom could be part of a very promising future for United. Valencia are United’s final opponents in group C, and a point will be enough to top the group, and thus avoid European giants such as Barcelona and Real Madrid in the next round.