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Rooney hat-trick to open the floodgates

Wayne Rooney's hat-trick against Portsmouth last week represented the release of a growing frustration at a lack of goals for the striker, according to Manchester United assistant boss Mike Phelan.

Prior to his third treble for United, Rooney has scored just once in eight games - a rate far below the lofty expectations the 24-year-old sets for himself. Much of the goal-scoring responsibility left behind by Cristiano Ronaldo has landed on Rooney's shoulders this season, meaning the club has been given a real lift now he is back in scoring form, Phelan said.

"Yes, he was a bit frustrated,'' said Phelan. "He sets good targets for himself, targets he wants to hit. But he is a great character to have around the football club. His work-rate never wanes and you can count on one hand the number of games he has not played to his best.''

It is that infectious personality that has helped drive United on this season. There have been plenty of occasions when the Red Devils have not been at their best in this post-Ronaldo era but so often they have managed to grab something out of the contest. And with Rooney now up to 11 goals for the season, Phelan is hoping the England star can hit one of his famed scoring streaks to keep United in the title picture.

"We would hope Wayne can score a hat-trick in every game. It's good for us and him,'' said Phelan. "He is a determined character. And when Wayne is scoring goals it means this football team is doing well.

"He has tended to go on scoring bursts in the past but whether he is scoring or not, his overall game is always there. He works hard for the team and produces moments in games that few other players can do. But now he is getting a few goals as well as so we are getting the whole package.''

In fact, the hardest job for Sir Alex Ferguson is reining Rooney in. The former Everton star was not even on the bench for Tuesday's Carling Cup win over Tottenham.

Having pleaded to be involved against CSKA Moscow last month, the night after the birth of his first son Kai, it is a fair bet Rooney would not have been too impressed at missing out completely. But, as Phelan points out, there are bigger battles ahead.

"He is like every other player, Wayne wants to play every game,'' he said. "But the staff have to make a judgement on how and when it is best to use them all. It is a long season and we are in every competition. We need to use this players wisely in order to get to the point where it matters in May.''


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