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Hull City 1 Manchester United 3

December 28, 2009

Wayne Rooney scored United's first at Hull - Getty

If Manchester United win a fourth consecutive league title this season, Wayne Rooney will have made the decisive contribution.

It was, as so often, his movement and vision that proved the difference between United and their opponents yesterday; he was the key man in United’s three goals (and, inadvertently, Hull’s) and helped cut Chelsea’s lead at the top to two points when at times Hull looked likely to take at least a share of the points.

United went into the game with four defenders for the first time in a few weeks – Evra, Vidic, Brown and Rafael all started as Sir Alex Ferguson abandoned the back-three strategy that had operated poorly at Fulham last weekend.

United started stronger but Hull created the best early chance, Seyi Olofinjana firing a volley into the ground for Tomas Kuszczak to parry. 

The visitors were passing the ball better than the hosts, but their first decent chance was created by Rooney, as he took a ball from Dimitar Berbatov and fired an excellent left-foot shot towards the roof of the net and forcing a corner as Boaz Myhill saved. It was a rare piece of individual inspiration in a team that is staggering towards the New Year.

Yet United took a lead into half-time, as Darren Fletcher’s superb cross was allowed to travel too far and Rooney raced into the six-yard box to tap home. The ecstatic team celebrations – while not unusual from Rooney himself – showed the importance of the goal.

Craig Fagan slots home Hull's equaliser from the spot - BBC

Hull struck back in the second half, when Rooney made a rare mistake, playing a 20-yard ball back to the ‘keeper when Craig Fagan was lurking. Fagan crossed for Jozy Altidore to head home, but Rafael – who had earlier missed a sitter after a great run – pushed him in the back as he jumped. Alan Wiley awarded a penalty and Fagan sidefooted home.

Rooney, who admitted later he was scared of  facing Ferguson’s wrath for his careless error, responded by creating his team’s second and third. As Hull pressed, sensing the opportunity to punish an inconsistent United, United broke. Giggs slid the ball to Rooney on the right of the Hull box, and he hit a cross on the turn towards Ji-sung Park. Andy Dawson, trying to intercept, directed the ball into his own net before it could reach the susbtitute.

Rooney and Berbatov celebrate United's third - BBC

The victory was sealed when United broke again, Rooney charging down the left and moving into the box. With three Hull defenders and Myhill between him and the goal, he slotted the ball through them all and found Berbatov in space at the far post, for a simple tap-in.

Rooney’s vision and intelligence – and, seemingly, the desire to avoid a dressing-down from his boss – has bailed United out already this season. He is increasingly becoming the team’s most important player in a post-Ronaldo league, but fans must hope the team will not have to rely on his brilliance too often as they push for the top.

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