LIVERPOOL 0 MANCHESTER UNITED 1
IT WAS supposed to be all about Fernando from Caceres, not Wayne from Croxtech and even in the dreams of that young lad on a council estate those few years ago, his first goal against Liverpool had been different to this.
Rooney's shirt had always been blue - nothing but blue - in never, never land.
Everything else was perfect, however, about the winner that kept United at least within binocular-vision of Chelsea. The way in which he picked up the ball in midfield with Anfield at its raucous best cheering their team's early ascendancy to the high heavens. The way he reacted with unfathomable speed to spot the opportunity and drill it with that A£27m right-foot low across the ground from fully 30 yards. The way it skidded on its unerring course before creeping under the despairing right hand of the hapless Liverpool goalkeeper.
And most definitely the way Anfield was silenced.
There the dream probably ended, although Rooney probably guessed what he'd do next. He ran to the Kop put his hands to ears and remained there long after his teammates had thought better of it, punching the air, jutting out that distinctive chin, the look on his screwed-up face saying 'there, that's from me and my mates'. The electricity was well and truly back on, with the Kop going wild. Insults rained down. Coins, lighters, and even a mobile phone, soon followed.
While the FA might not be too impressed he will certainly have the backing of Alex Ferguson, who was just as supportive of his teenage striker as you'd expect him to be when asked whether he'd been wise to run to the Kop. 'Well that's the end he scored at wasn't it?' the United manager said. 'Where was he supposed to run?' Off the end of the world for all Liverpool cared, but then when you've just lost your third successive eague match at home to United, graciousness in defeat is not uppermost in your minds.
What should have been burning large at the forefront of their craniums, however, was the name Roy Keane.
Because while Rooney grabbed the headlines, Keane grabbed everything else.
From the moment the 19-yearold gave United the initiative their early industry barely deserved after 21 minutes, the 32-year-old stamped his foot on the controls and steered United home. This included 25 minutes when the visitors were forced to play with 10 men after Wes Brown's dismissal. "It was strange because when we were playing the better, we conceded the goal, " said the manager Rafael Benitez, too diplomatic to say yet another Dudek blunder had cost them dear.
There was at least the odd touch from Fernando Morientes to console him, although the Spaniard never looked likely to continue the incredible record of scoring on every debut he has ever made. But then, he's never made a debut against a team who have just gone a club record seven successive games without conceding a goal. "Our defence was absolutely terrific, " said Ferguson. Indeed they were, Brown in particular outstanding until his wild lunge on John Arne Riise brought his second yellow in the 64th minute. This gave Liverpool an upsurge in hope just when they needed it most. Alas there was an upsurge in little else apart from United defiance.
But it had all started so differently, with Liverpool tearing away from the off. A few Morientes miss-hits in the box, a Luis Garcia header that flew past Roy Carroll's post, not to mention a mazy run by the little Spaniard that took him deep into the enemy's territory . . . promise fairly filled the old stadium. Then struck Rooney and although Gerrard's right-foot shot was seemingly only kept out by a Phil Neville deflection in the 39th minute by then United had so almost slipped two to the good. Keane's influence had been growing and it looked to have had a reward when his 25-yard piledriver on the half-hour mark cannoned off the crossbar. No matter, this was statement enough from the captain and together with Scholes, he set about giving a masterclass in crisp-passing and pig-headed domination.
Gerrard has never been so anonymous in his own backyard. The United midfield duo's task was made that much the harder when Steve Bennett showed Brown the way to the changing room, but these two are not the type to flinch from a challenge and they aided the United rearguard in shutting out Liverpool for the rest of the game.