There are simply not enough superlatives to describe Wayne Rooney. Once again he was the man for the big occasion as Manchester United retained the Carling Cup. In the semi-final, his late header broke the spirit and hearts of Manchester City. Rooney did the same again yesterday to ruin Aston Villa's dream of a first major trophy in 14 years in an enthralling encounter at Wembley. "It's a great feeling," he said.
A knee worry saw him start on the bench and look on as his replacement Michael Owen scored an impressive opener. But when a hamstring injury ended Owen's big moment just before half time, on came Rooney to lead the champions to yet more glory. The winner came in the 74th minute when Antonio Valencia chipped across for the striker to send a header soaring over Brad Friedel. It was a priceless 28th goal of the season and his seventh headed goal in eight games. He is very much at the head of the class.
In start that could only be described as fast and ferocious, it was Villa who gained the advantage in the fourth minute. Gabriel Agbonlahor's pace was too much for Nemanja Vidic. The United defender grabbed his shirt to stop him racing clear and then stretched out a leg that did stop the Villa frontman. James Milner confidently stroked home the penalty for his ninth goal of the season, but, as the last man, Vidic was very, very fortunate not to see a red card. The referee Phil Dowd did not even show him a yellow , much to the frustration of Villa. As United regrouped, it was Owen who led their charge. In front of a watching Fabio Capello, Owen showed the prowess that once made him England's frontline force.
Richard Dunne turned provider after trying to make amends for a mistake. He was caught in possession by Dimitar Berbatov and a sliding tackle saw the ball fall perfectly for Owen to fire into the corner past Brad Friedel. It was clinical. The Owen of old. But fortune has not favoured Owen this season and his game was over in the 42nd minute. A hamstring injury prompting the entrance of Rooney. He was instantly involved and desperate to make an impact. But United were obviously lifted by his presence.
Ji-sung Park almost put United back in front in first-half injury time when he struck the post after Valencia's right-wing cross caused panic in the Villa defence. Michael Carrick's clever touch then created a shooting chance that was only denied a goal by the strong hand of Friedel. The Villa keeper was heroic for Blackburn when they won the trophy in 2002. Martin O'Neill was no doubt aware that the American's experience could prove crucial on such an occasion as compatriot Brad Guzan was relegated to the bench. But not even Friedel could deny Rooney. This was his stage and he delivered yet again.
The United striker scored twice when the Reds won the competition in 2006 against Wigan. He could have repeated that feat with another header from a Valencia cross but it thudded against the post. Villa bravely fought until the end. Vidic deflected a header onto the bar as O'Neill's side pressed for the equaliser, but they had no answer. Against Rooney in this form, few teams have. email@example.com