Wayne Rooney, Man U cruise by Stoke
Wayne Rooney gave himself an early 27th birthday present as his two goals in Manchester United's 4-2 win against Stoke took him to 200 club goals on Saturday.
It was a strange day for Rooney though, who also became the first United player to score at both ends in a league game since David Beckham in 2001.
In fact, it was an odd afternoon all told given the own goal meant United once again had to come from behind, recovering courtesy of Rooney, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck, only to require Rooney's second to ease nerves created by a Michael Kightly goal for the visitors.
And the thrills will only partially divert attention away from Rio Ferdinand's decision to snub Sir Alex Ferguson by refusing to wear the Kick It Out anti-racism T-shirts worn by all his outfield team-mates in the prematch warm-up.
Ferguson said Friday he felt Jason Roberts was misguided in his determination not to wear the shirts, so Ferdinand's reasoning will be interesting, even if his position is somewhat easier to understand given the year-long dispute between brother Anton and former England teammate John Terry.
Away from the politics, Ferguson had described Stoke as the "jolly green giants" before the game. Yet it was Tony Pulis' side that looked like it had the magic beans, such was the gusto with which it attacked its hosts.
Charlie Adam in particular was a major threat, providing Stoke with the kind of direct midfield momentum United so obviously lacked.
It was the Scot's touchline free kick that Rooney ended up nudging into his own net.
In a packed six-yard box, under pressure from Ryan Shawcross and facing his own net, Rooney was in an impossible situation once Adam had drilled the ball beyond the near post.
It was not the way Rooney would have wanted to score for the first time this season, and condemned United to conceding the opening goal for an incredible seven occasions out of 11 games in all competitions.
Rooney said he knows that patern can't continue.
"Of course it is a concern," he said. "We can't keep doing that. No disrespect to Stoke, but better opposition will punish us. We need to keep working and keep defending well. Hopefully soon we will get the players back who can provide a bit of cover for us because if we want to be successful this season, we can't keep doing that."
And the damage was nearly much worse as Adam chanced his luck from the opposite touchline, forcing David de Gea into a fine reaction save as the United defense was almost caught out.
Ferguson has spoken optimistically of United's defense becoming more secure once there is consistency in selection. It does not seem to be happening though, despite Ferdinand and Evans playing alongside each other in central defense for the fifth time in a row, with the exception of a Capital One Cup tie.
"We keep starting badly," said Ferguson. "Early goal against Fulham. Early goal against Tottenham. Early goal today. We are giving ourselves uphill fights. You don't want it to happen and hopefully we will get it sorted. The second in particular was a really slack one for us to lose."
However, if defending remains a chore, United is thrill-a-minute heading the other way.
Rooney fed his strike partner to the left before heading off into the box, where an inch-perfect cross was delivered.
From a similar position to the one he found himself in at the other end, Rooney again found the net.
Stoke continued to forage but United was now on one of those familiar rolls, and the visitors had no way of halting the steamroller.
Welbeck should have put his side in front from Rooney's cross, then clipped the crossbar with a curling effort.
But when van Persie stole into space to meet Antonio Valencia's cross, the deft-close range finish rolled into the corner.
A minute after the break, United had another. Rooney was the provider this time with a cross that invited Welbeck's flying header.
Nothing is secure for this United team, though.
Kightly's charge straight down the center of the pitch has been seen far too often for comfort, and after a fortunate ricochet off Ferdinand, the midfielder calmly finished.
It was the seventh goal the Old Trafford outfit had conceded on home soil in four league games this season, a quite startling statistic considering United has kept a clean sheet in that run.
Rooney was destined to end a hero, though.
Twenty-seven on Wednesday, the Merseysider was captain fantastic for England in San Marino, hooked and humbled in Poland.
Saturday, he completed his double century of club goals for United and Everton in the easiest manner possible as van Persie's low cross bobbed about in the six-yard area before rolling to the far post, where an unmarked Rooney tucked home.
Rooney's partnership with ban Persie looks as though it might pay big dividends over the coming months, with both men equally adept at moving wide and creating a chance for others, as the Dutchman did today.
"We are getting more of an understanding," said Rooney. "That is the first game we have started together up front and we have both scored. I am sure it will get better."
Information from Press Association was used in this report.