Wayne Rooney Continues Habit of Stepping Up When Manchester United Need Him Most

Rob Dawson@@RobDawsonMENManchester United CorrespondentMarch 22, 2014

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Wayne Rooney has a habit of popping up when Manchester United need him the most.

He had his first 20-goal campaign as a professional the season after Ruud van Nistelrooy left for Real Madrid. He passed 30 for the first time the season after Cristiano Ronaldo headed the same way.

And, Saturday against West Ham United, he showed United's season didn't end the moment Robin van Persie was ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury.

In the absence of the Dutch striker, Rooney was pushed forward to lead the line at Upton Park.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

And before 10 minutes were on the clock he had scored a goal even Van Persie would have been happy to add to his highlight reel.

It was pure instinct. Genius, even. And made more impressive because it was the opening goal in what should have been a tight game.

You know you've done all right when David Beckham, who scored from the halfway line against Wimbledon nearly 18 years ago, is in the stands grinning in appreciation. 

Speaking to Sky Sports about his superb long-range strike, Rooney said:  

I think it's just instinct. I've turned, had a quick look and seen the goalkeeper is off his line. I've tried that many times but thankfully it's gone in.

You try them in training, you try it in games, but it's not often they come off. When they do it's great for me and the team to put us in such a position.

His second was far simpler, but even more significant.

It was his 212th in a United shirt, enough to move him above Jack Rowley into third place on the club's list of goalscorers. It won't be long before he has passed Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 249.

There is more expected of Rooney now. 

In a world where he earns £300k a week, he is expected to earn it. Paid like one of the best players in the world, he is expected to perform like one.

When United agreed to the terms of his new five-year contract last month, it was a statement that David Moyes plans to build his new era around the England striker.

The size and length of his new deal confirmed his status as United's main man. And like a L'Oreal girl, his job now is to prove he's worth it.

In the build-up to the game at West Ham, the responsibility on the 28-year-old's shoulders grew further. Van Persie, a Champions League saviour in mid-week, will be lucky if he plays again this season.

The former Arsenal striker hasn't had his best season, but they are still big shoes to fill.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

It was fitting then that for a game that marked the start of Moyes' reliance on Rooney for goals for the remainder of the season, he was made captain for the day.

And if Moyes was hoping Rooney would lead by example, he couldn't have hoped for a better response. Two goals, three points and a game that could have been awkward ended in a stroll.

United haven't been able to say that too many times this season.

There are sterner tests to come for United and Rooney, starting with Manchester City on Tuesday.

It's a game that has already lost Van Persie and Sergio Aguero. But no one has scored more goals in the Manchester derby than Rooney. 

A two-legged Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich is an even bigger test.

But in a season when United fans have, at times, lost all hope, Rooney has at least provided a glimmer.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

As much talk as there has been of Rooney's qualities as a deep-lying forward, his best performances for United have come as a central striker. And, with Van Persie on the treatment table, he can expect to spend the next two months there.

Rooney has filled voids left by Van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo in the past. And he'll be asked to do it again for the rest of this season. 

United's hopes of salvaging some respectability from this season now rest on his ability to answer the call.


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