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Tootle's 'slug' goal celebration

The Toe Poke

Nani: Rooney form can drive United

Nani is convinced Wayne Rooney's return to form is bad news for Manchester United's title rivals, and the Portuguese winger has tipped his team-mate to hit a rich vein of scoring form.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had challenged Rooney to hit double figures this season before Tuesday's 3-1 victory over Aston Villa, and the England striker responded in emphatic fashion with a brace at Old Trafford.

His double took him onto five for the season and while that figure still has Rooney trailing Park Ji-Sung and Nani, in addition to free-scoring duo Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez, Rooney still has time on his side with 14 Premier League fixtures remaining, plus Champions League and FA Cup games.

And, as the championship battle starts to take shape, Nani believes that should Rooney continue to score, United will be in a very advantageous position,

"Wayne will go on a run now,'' Nani said. "He might not have scored many goals but he is very important for the team because he works so hard in every game.

"Sometimes the games haven't gone the way he wanted but last night was his best performance of this season. He will be more confident now and I am sure he will score more goals in the next few games.''

That belief does not bode well for Arsenal and Chelsea, whose campaign has been reignited following the stunning £70 million acquisitions of Fernando Torres and David Luiz. United have not bought players at anything like that level since Berbatov arrived for a club record £30.75 million in 2008.

Ferguson continues to insist there is no value in the market, a view that is hard to challenge given Liverpool paid more for Andy Carroll on Monday than it cost Barcelona to sign David Villa from Valencia last summer.

Yet, despite the frugal approach, United have somehow got themselves five points ahead of the pack and their last three performances - against Birmingham, Blackpool and Villa - have, in their different ways, borne the hallmark of champions.

"We are a very confident team at the moment,'' Nani said. "We don't want to lose and will work hard to keep this way because we want to finish the season in first.''

Should United avoid defeat at Wolves on Saturday, they will create a new club record of 30 league matches unbeaten too.

"I don't know how long we can go on for but we hope to finish the season unbeaten,'' Nani said. "It will be very hard but we intend to win those last games as well.''

United did not quite emerge from last night's encounter unscathed. Darren Fletcher took a nasty blow to the face during the first-half and though he was patched up and tried to play on, the Scotland skipper did not last long.

He will need to be monitored before facing Mick McCarthy's men, while Rafael must also be given the all-clear after failing to return from the concussion he suffered at Blackpool seven days earlier.

These do appear to be minor inconveniences at present, although with the Manchester derby looming on February 12 and the trip to Chelsea still pencilled in for March 1, it won't be long before the Red Devils face the acid test of their title credentials.

However, if desire is a major requirement, Ferguson's team are halfway there already, their lead coming from the manager, and also veteran winger Ryan Giggs, who has already won 11 titles but still has room for another.

"You have always got a challenge to focus on or a disappointment to get over,'' Giggs said. "I have been fortunate to have a lot of success down the years but I am greedy and it ends up being the disappointments that you think about more and more.

"There have been more highs than lows but the lows stay with you and drive you on.''


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