By Miles Chambers
Everton’s late goals in Sunday’s 4-4 epic at Manchester United prevented Wayne Rooney from taking all the headlines, but his performance against the club he grew up at was further proof that he is maturing into an Old Trafford great.
He now sits fourth in the club's all-time goalscoring list with 180 goals, and he is only 69 celebrations shy of Sir Bobby Charlton, who tops the tally.
George Best and Dennis Viollet (both on 179) were both surpassed with his double against his former club. The fresh-faced boy who moved from Goodison Park for just under £30 million eight summers ago is now a distant memory.
Rooney has had his fair share of drama - on and off the pitch - and he is only 26, roughly the halfway point in his professional career.
There are warnings from some quarters that he could follow in the footsteps of United team-mate Michael Owen and become a peripheral figure in the footballing world.
But the former Liverpool striker’s biggest asset was his blistering pace, while the ex-Evertonian possesses strength in abundance that should prevent a similar tumble unless he becomes synonymous with injuries.
|A MAN ON FORM
| PLAYER RATING
|7.5||Took his tally to 26 league goals for the season with a double that makes him United's fourth-highest scorer of all time. Equalised in the 41st minute with a glancing header and slotted home the fourth on 69 minutes.|
He had previously failed to score against David Moyes’ men in six games but this changed when he scored United’s first goal and the equaliser to Nikica Jelavic’s opener.
It may have cannoned in off his face but it was clearly intentional, and his willingness to put his body on the line to succeed in part of why is revered by so many.
His second, and United’s fourth, was an astute finish after good link-up play with the creator, his England team-mate Danny Welbeck.
Their excellent partnership up front is music to the ears of the Three Lions faithful. The 21-year-old himself etched his name on the scoresheet with a fiercely-struck goal to send United 2-1 up on 57 minutes.
Late in the game, Rooney was tracking back to help the hapless defence being showcased at Old Trafford too. He looked crestfallen when Steven Pienaar prodded past David de Gea to level the scores at 4-4 with just five minutes remaining of the 90.
His passion and tendency to track back still remain but it seems his disciplinary record has taken a turn for the better - he has not picked up a single yellow card in the Premier League this season.
Compare this to the 31 bookings he was given during his previous five years of top flight football and it is evident that the petulant side of his game is decreasing.
The obvious blip came in Montenegro last October when he was sent off for a petulant swipe at Miodrag Dzudovic in England’s final Euro 2012 qualifier. Hopefully he has learnt from that lapse in sanity, and is set to suffer the consequences at the Uefa tournament in June as he misses the first two group matches because of the ban.
Robin van Persie beat him to the PFA Player of the Year award this weekend but the Red Devils striker has, at times, dragged the team through in matches they might otherwise have dropped points.
|9/1||Manchester United are 9/1 to beat Manchester City 1-0 with Paddy Power|
For all the deserved adulation directed at the Arsenal captain, the Dutchman has played 488 minutes more than the Manchester United man in the Premier League this season and only has one more goal to show for it.
Rooney now has a mouth-watering match in which to silence his doubters. Broadcasters have seen their dreams come true and next Monday Manchester City will host United at the Etihad Stadium.
‘Title-decider’ is a moniker used with caution as both teams face opponents in the subsequent match that have beaten their Manchester adversaries already this season - Swansea City face the Red Devils and Mancini's men travel to Newcastle United.
City will go top of the table if they win on home turf, although their only defeat there this season came in the FA Cup at the hands of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in January. Three points will not be a walk in the park.
You can guarantee Roberto Mancini will be hoping his defence can handle Rooney on Monday and praying he does not pull off a stunning goal such as the overhead-kick he fired in against them last campaign.
That goal was the turning point after a period of unpopularity among Old Trafford en masse. The striker had publicly criticised the club’s ambition in a successful attempt at getting a big-money contract deal.
But the saga last season seems long forgotten in the Stretford End and you would not be in the minority to bet against Rooney exceeding the legendary Charlton on goals scored for the reigning league champions.