United’s Champions League victory over Romania’s Otelul Galati was workmanlike rather than wonderful. But a win’s a win and this one was enough to leave Sir Alex’s men in a commanding position at the top of Group C, with two games to play.
Antonio Valencia’s eighth-minute tap-in was all that separated the sides on the scoreboard until Wayne Rooney’s late long-range effort deflected off Cristian Sarghi and past the Galati goalkeeper. But it wasn’t as if United found the going particularly tough against Galati; the Reds actually looked comfortable, if not wholly convincing, for long periods.
It was a similar story a fortnight ago in Bucharest when two second-half spot-kicks, both won and converted by Rooney, handed United the three points. Rooney didn’t quite get his name on the scoresheet again in this match (UEFA have declared the Reds’ second an own goal), but he still had a big impact, albeit from a much different area of the pitch.
Indeed, Sir Alex took the unusual step of deploying Wayne in a deep-lying midfield role. And although it was unfamiliar teriitory, the Reds’ no.10 didn’t disappoint. Within 40 seconds he had chased Liviu Antal down towards the corner flag and harried the Romanian into coughing up possession.
Rooney then went on to demonstrate, in understated fashion, a knack for keeping the ball moving with simple first-time passes, interspersing these with a steady array of more ambitious long balls. In many ways, his performance was reminiscent of the way Paul Scholes used to quietly dictate a game’s rhythmn.
Indeed, it was the Reds’ no.10 who was responsible for launching the attack that yielded the early opener. His long, raking pass to the right wing found Dimitar Berbatov, who held the ball up briefly before releasing Phil Jones on the overlap. His ball to the near post just eluded Michael Owen’s stretch, but waiting behind, unmarked and only three yards from goal, was Antonio Valencia. He was never going to miss.
The joy in the stands was tempered a minute later when Owen, who appeared to have injured himself while attempting to reach Jones’ cross, limped down the tunnel and was replaced by Javier Hernandez. It was United’s two full-backs, though, who came closest to adding a second before half-time. First Fabio embarked on a dribble from the left-back position that only ended when his attempt to roll the ball across goal for Berbatov was blocked by a last-ditch tackle. Along the way he’d left countless Romanians in his wake.
Then Jones surged down the right, cut inside the penalty area and unleashed a curling left-footed effort that looked bound for the far corner until Sergiu Costin intervened with a headed clearance. Galati, too, almost troubled the scorers on 42 minutes when Ionut Neagu pounced on Anderson’s loose pass and advanced on goal. His effort took a touch off Rio Ferdinand, which forced David De Gea, hitherto unworked and just after the break, Berbatov, Jones and Hernandez sparked brief panic inside the Galati penalty area with some neat interplay that cut the Romanian defence apart before goalkeeper Grahovac spread himself well to snuff out the danger. Down the other end, De Gea had to be equally alert to punch the ball clear as Antal raced to get on the end of a left-wing centre. Minutes later he gleefully clutched the ball to his chest after Costin rose at the back post to meet subsitute Sorin Frunza’s corner.
Costin was in the thick of the action again when he raced back to clear off the line after Anderson combined with Berbatov to reach the return pass first and lift the ball past the onrushing Grahovac. Hernandez had a long-range shot saved and Berbatov poked a presentable chance wide of the near post on 75 minutes before Rooney added the icing on the cake with his deflected effort.
It made the final score line look more respectable and probably reflected more accurately the balance of play (although Galati did try and force their way back into it late on). In many ways, though, the sloppy nature of the goal summed up a match that probably won’t live long in the memory of many United fans.
Glory Glory ManUnited!