Wayne Rooney ended Manchester United’s 404-minute goal drought by the scoring the winner against CSKA Moscow on a night of high emotion at Old Trafford.
The United support had vented their frustration at the players when they sauntered off the pitch at halftime having failed to score again, and then Louis van Gaal got it in the neck for replacing Anthony Martial with Marouane Fellaini in the second half. The supporters booed loudly when the striker was substituted in the 66th minute, but soon after Rooney headed in to give United a valuable 1-0 win over the Russians.
Victory over PSV in three weeks’ time will put United into the knockout stages of the Champions League. That would be some achievement for Van Gaal’s team, who lost their first match against the Dutch side seven weeks ago. But the United manager still has a long way to go to prove his doubters wrong by pairing good results with enterprising, attacking soccer.
Rooney, at least, made his critics eat a slice of humble pie by scoring the winner. The captain’s first Champions League goal since September 2013 was a welcome one. He is now level with United’s second highest scorer Denis Law on 237 goals.
It was clear before kickoff United’s fans wanted a performance as well as a win here. The Stretford End yelled “attack, attack, attack” as the players came out and the hosts obliged initially. In the first 20 minutes there was no evidence of the “sideways, boring” football Paul Scholes accused United of in the BT studios before kick off. United threw everything at CSKA. Martial, playing up front, squared to Rooney, who dragged a volley narrowly wide. Daley Blind floated a 50-yard pass over CSKA’s defense, but Juan Mata could not steer the ball past Igor Akinfeev.
For a while it was like the good old days. The only thing that was missing was a goal. Mata danced into the box, and found Ashley Young, but Lingard blasted his shot over. Marcos Rojo rippled the side-netting. Despite their dominance, the United fans did not seem too happy. They repeated their demand for attacking football as the players walked off at the break.
United continued to waste chances after the restart. Rojo nodded a free header wide. Rooney tapped the ball into the net, but the cheers from behind the goal were ironic as the referee had blown for offside.