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Rooney stars as United start New Year with victory

sports Updated: Jan 01, 2011 22:56 IST

AFP
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Wayne Rooney began 2011 in style on Saturday, scoring one goal and making another as Premier League leaders Manchester United secured a 2-1 win at West Bromwich Albion.

Rooney's third-minute header -- his first goal in open play since March -- gave United an early lead but Albion were soon level courtesy of James Morrison's stunning half-volley.

The home side were unfortunate not to end the half ahead after being denied a clear penalty for a foul by Gary Neville on Graham Dorrans.

However, they were awarded one in the second half when Rio Ferdinand caught Jerome Thomas, only for Peter Odemwingie to fire it wide and, as is so often the case with United, they paid a hefty price when substitute Javier Hernandez headed home a Rooney corner 15 minutes from time.

For United, it was only their second away win of the campaign but the victory was enough to temporarily move them three points clear at the top of the table before rivals Manchester City went into action against Blackpool.

But Albion's fourth straight defeat left them three points above the relegation zone.

Both managers made four changes to their line-ups from mid-week action, with ex-Albion goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, in for Edwin van der Sar, and Neville, making his first start for two months, the most notable United inclusions.

Nani, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were among the absentees for the leaders, but United still took an early lead.

Just two minutes and 15 seconds had passed when Gabriel Obertan laid the ball off to Patrice Evra and his first-time cross was met by Rooney, whose downward header was directed beyond Baggies goalkeeper Scott Carson and into the far corner.

It was a first club goal from open play since March for the United striker, and only his second in the Premier League this season.

However, United's elation soon turned to frustration when the Baggies conjured a goal of the highest quality just 11 minutes later, when Nemanja Vidic could only half-clear Chris Brunt's high ball into the path of Morrison.

The midfielder then demonstrated textbook technique to fire an unstoppable half-volley into the top-left corner from the edge of the box.

It was Roberto di Matteo's team who continued to look the more likely to score and they were incensed after being denied a penalty in the 26th minute.

Morrison's pass sent Dorrans clean through on goal only for the midfielder to be poleaxed from behind by Neville, who failed to take any of the ball and should have been red carded.

Two more presentable opportunities went to waste in added time when Odemwingie sent Dorrans through, only for the Scot to fire into the side netting, and then a Brunt free-kick deflected narrowly past the post with Kuszczak wrong-footed.

The Baggies were handed a golden chance to go ahead when referee Chris Foy adjudged Ferdinand to have caught Thomas inside the box but Odemwingie feebly dragged his 63rd-minute spot kick wide.

It was just the fillip United required and, in trademark style, they snatched a winner when Rooney's corner was headed in from close range by unmarked susbtitute Hernandez.

There was a late scare for United when Rooney took a knock to his ankle following a vicious challenge by Brunt but the striker was fit enough to finish the match.