Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney ensured Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United returned to winning ways in a routine 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford here on Saturday.
Rooney struck three minutes from time, converting Anderson’s cross with a clinical sweeping shot into the Rovers net from six yards out, to give his side a comfortable cushion yet this was far from a vintage performance from the defending champions.
United looked out of sorts for the first half-hour, possibly the legacy of an unfamiliar line-up which Ferguson had been forced to select with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both considered incapable of starting the game.
That left United with an unfamiliar centre-back pairing of Wes Brown and Jonny Evans although, save for a promising attack from El-Hadji Diouf which was ended by John O’Shea’s well-timed tackle in the 23rd minute, there was nothing to worry that re-shaped defence in the first-half.
United, however, were similarly slow to click into gear in their attacking play and Blackburn, still smarting from the dressing down they received from manager Sam Allardyce after last weekend?s five-goal defeat at Chelsea, were in no mood to repeat the mistakes made at Stamford Bridge.
Blackburn followed Allardyce’s instructions to the letter, packing ten men behind the ball whenever possible, and on the odd occasion United managed to work their way through the massed Rovers ranks, visiting keeper Paul Robinson was in inspired form.
On the half hour, Antonio Valencia’s right-wing cross was met by Berbatov but the Bulgarian’s downward header bounced up perfectly for Robinson to acrobatically tip the ball over the crossbar.
Shortly afterwards, Berbatov, again, threatened the Blackburn goal with a low, skidding shot from 22 yards which Robinson did well to turn around his left-hand post with a smart dive.
Before the interval, Berbatov also had the ball in the net, converting Rooney’s low cross, only for the ‘goal’ to be correctly ruled out for an offside against the England centre-forward.
Nani, who, along with Valencia on the other United wing, had put in a disappointing effort in the opening period, missed a glorious opportunity when he failed to connect with a Valencia corner late in the first-half.
With no obvious improvement at the start of the second half, and with the Old Trafford crowd starting to show increasing disquiet, United finally enjoyed the slice of good fortune their efforts just about merited.
Patrice Evra’s low shot from outside the area flew directly to the feet of Berbatov, back to goal, and the forward spun instantly before depositing an unstoppable shot into the far corner of Robinson’s goal, his fourth of the season, in the 55th minute.
Going behind forced Rovers into altering their game plan and Allardyce brought on attacking midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen in place of his more defensive team-mate Keith Andrews.
The change in the game’s balance and shape should have brought more chances for United, who threw on young French winger Gabriel Obertan for his first taste of Premier League football in place of the disappointing Nani.
Within minutes, Obertan was sent clear by Anderson although the Frenchman could only muster a shot directly at Robinson after sprinting half the length of the field.
Rooney shot well over soon after before Obertan, astonishingly, failed to hit the target from six yards after fellow substitute Michael Owen had allowed Valencia’s pass to fall into his path.