Rooney’s joy as he equals Charl­ton’s record haul

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - SPORT - At Old Traf­ford

It was not the sort of fin­ish that would, or­di­nar­ily, live long in the mem­ory or rank highly in Wayne Rooney’s rich back cat­a­logue but few will have car­ried such mean­ing for the Manch­ester United cap­tain.

Ris­ing to meet Juan Mata’s cross in the sev­enth minute of this one-sided FA Cup tie, Rooney stuck out his right leg and watched the ball bounce off his knee, past Ali Habsi, the Read­ing goal­keeper, and, in the process, draw the Eng­land for­ward level with Sir Bobby Charl­ton’s record of 249 goals for United. From his seat in the Old Traf­ford direc­tors’ box, blink­ing through his glasses un­der his dark, brimmed hat, Charl­ton, now 79, clapped en­thu­si­as­ti­cally as the sig­nif­i­cance of the goal was reg­is­tered over the PA sys­tem.

“It’s a proud mo­ment, es­pe­cially to do it at such a mas­sive club like Manch­ester United,” Rooney said af­ter­wards. “I’m hugely hon­oured to be able to play for this foot­ball club and to be up there in terms of goals with Sir Bobby is a re­ally proud mo­ment for me. Hope­fully I’ll be out there on my own soon but I’ll en­joy to­day.”

Rooney’s re­la­tion­ship with United has not al­ways been the eas­i­est. He has twice threat­ened to leave the club and might not have been around to break the record had Sir Alex Ferguson stayed on as man­ager any longer.

But Ferguson was one of those up on his feet ap­plaud­ing yes­ter­day, and while Rooney might be the first to ac­knowl­edge that he has been limp­ing to­wards the land­mark – this, af­ter all, was only his fourth goal of the cam­paign – the scale of his achieve­ment is huge. Some of the greats of world foot­ball have adorned the United shirt in the 43 years since Charl­ton left the club and have not got close to his goals haul. Rooney needed 543 games spread over 12½ years to match it, although Jose Mour­inho said the “best day will be the day he scores the next goal”.

“It’s just a ques­tion of when,” the United man­ager added. “It’s amaz­ing be­cause ev­ery­body knows who Sir Bobby is and what he means for the his­tory of the club and the his­tory of English foot­ball and for Wayne to score the same num­ber of goals for Manch­ester United is fan­tas­tic.” Rooney’s his­toric goal, and United’s com­pre­hen­sive dis­man­tling of the Read­ing side, cer­tainly en­sured Jaap Stam’s first com­pet­i­tive re­turn to Old Traf­ford since his de­par­ture in 2001 was over­shad­owed. Stam was given a rap­tur­ous re­cep­tion but, given his team’s lam­en­ta­ble de­fend­ing, cul­mi­nat­ing in a far­ci­cal mis­take by AlHabsi for Mar­cus Rash­ford’s second goal and United’s fourth, the Dutch­man must have wished he was in­vis­i­ble at times.

United were dom­i­nant from start to fin­ish and should have scored sev­eral more from their 27 at­tempts as they claimed an eighth suc­ces­sive win for the first time since Septem­ber 2009, the per­fect warm-up ahead of the first leg of their League Cup semi-fi­nal against Hull City on Tues­day.

Rooney stole the head­lines but An­thony Mar­tial and Rash­ford were Read­ing’s tor­men­tors-in-chief, with Mata and Michael Car­rick prov­ing a very able sup­port cast. Read­ing were pet­ri­fied ev­ery time Mar­tial got the ball, con­tin­u­ally back­ing off and pay­ing the price.

The French­man surged in­side early on and found Mata, whose cross was turned in with that ef­fec­tive piece of im­pro­vi­sa­tion from Rooney. And eight min­utes later, Mar­tial tore a hole through the Read­ing team, driv­ing for­ward and then slot­ting into the bot­tom cor­ner from 10 yards with not so much as a snip at his heels.

This was Rash­ford’s first start since Nov 27 and, at first, he looked ring-rusty in front of goal, find­ing the side-net­ting with one op­por­tu­nity and then tak­ing a touch from Rooney’s ex­quis­ite through ball when he should have shot first time. But his run­ning and move­ment were ex­cel­lent and he even­tu­ally got his re­ward with two goals in quick suc­ces­sion in the fi­nal 15 min­utes.

The de­fend­ing for both goals will have left Stam flum­moxed, though. For United’s third, Liam Moore – who had spurned Read­ing’s one open­ing in the first half – might have done bet­ter try­ing to cut out Car­rick’s search­ing pass, leav­ing Rash­ford free to beat Al-Habsi. And then Al-Habsi got him­self in a dread­ful mess from Moore’s back pass, try­ing to clear with his left boot but in­ad­ver­tently kick­ing the ball with his right first as Rash­ford stole in to score on the goalline.

Rooney’s shirt would cer­tainly fetch some­thing con­sid­er­able at auc­tion and although footage do­ing the rounds on so­cial me­dia ap­peared to show Ge­orge Evans, the Read­ing and for­mer Manch­ester City mid­fielder, pass­ing on the chance to swap jer­seys with the United cap­tain at the fi­nal whis­tle, Evans later posted a pic­ture of the shirt on Twit­ter clar­i­fy­ing he did even­tu­ally take up the man of the mo­ment’s of­fer.

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