Manchester United secured their place in the next round of the UEFA Champions League with a well-deserved 1-0 win over Rangers at the Ibrox Stadium.
The script was written for Wayne Rooney on his return to the starting line-up, and the forward – albeit a late penalty – got his name amongst the goals to exercise some of his self-inflicted demons.
Coupled with Valencia’s resounding 6-1 win over Bursaspor in the other Group C match, United and Los Che, who face off on Matchday 6, will present the group in the Knockout phase, and Rangers will go into the Europa League.
It was a much changed United line-up from their match against Wigan Athletic as Sir Alex Ferguson made eight changes – with four of those changes coming his untested back-four combination of John O’Shea, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Fabio.
After admitting that he has tinkered with his strikers too much, Ferguson inserted Wayne Rooney back into his starting XI for only the second time in the Champions League this season and he partnered the fit-again forward with Dimitar Berbatov in the United attack.
The Gaffer also had Ryan Giggs available to be recalled to his the line-up as well after the ageless icon recovered from another hamstring injury.
In just second minute of the match, the referee had a contentious decision to make as Steven Davis took down Dimitar Berbatov in the Rangers penalty area, but the appeals came to no avail.
Like he did in the first match at Old Trafford, Walter Smith chose another five-man defense as he wanted to force United to break them down and earn their stripes.
Five minutes later, United had their first attempt at goal when Fabio cut inside against his marker and floated a cross to Berbatov, but the Bulgarian’s header lacked pace and accuracy and went directly at Allan McGregor.
United were showing the intent and curiosity that was needed to breakdown the Gers back-line, but it was home side who had the next chance in the match.
Davis sent in a long free-kick into the United penalty, which was flicked on by David Weir onto the head of Kenny Miller, but the former Wolverhampton forward headed harmlessly wide from a very good position.
Paul Scholes was left biting his lip after he went to ground and took out Lee McCulloch, but, thankfully, the poor-tackling midfielder won the ball fairly.
United began to pin Rangers deep within their own half, and the fell to Nani just inside the area, but the winger could not replicate his effort his left-footed drive against Bursaspor and it was easily cut out by Weir.
On 24 minutes, Rooney had two half-chances to open the scoring. His first shot will be one that won’t live long in his memory book as he miss hit Berbatov’s cross, but his second bite of the cherry was blocked well by Kirk Broadfoot and out for a corner.
United were working to wear down the resistance of Rangers, and following some good, quick passes in and around the box saw Nani with a chance to shoot, but his quick shot ended up in the crowd.
Like they were doing for most of the half, United attacked down the left flank when Giggs feed a through ball for Fabio, and his first-time cross was expertly met by Rooney, and his header left McGregor with no chance, but the crossbar came to the rescue of Rangers.
Within a minute, Rangers had a golden chance of their own to buckle the net, but van der Sar was more than up to the task to deny them.
Some good interchange of passes between Steven Naismith and Miller saw the latter close down on the United goal, but his outside-of-the-foot shot was saved by the right foot of the big Dutchman.
With a minute of the restart, Nani won United a free-kick 30-yards, which was taken by Rooney, but his effort curled agonizingly wide of the gaping far post.
It looked as though Rooney was starting to find his feet again, has he was given two chances to test McGregor with another header, but the Gers ‘keeper was not troubled either time.
A clever pass from Scholes sprung Giggs into a little bit of space on the left, and his cross found Berbatov in the middle of the area, but his shot was less than desired as it popped straight up and into the arms of McGregor.
The Scottish goalkeeper was called straight back into action after a very tight, three-man passing movement between Berbatov, Rooney and Carrick, but midfielder’s shot was easily blocked by McGregor.
United were let off the hook after some poor defending by Evans as Naismith muscled in, but van der Sar was already off his line and stuck his big hands up to deny him a certain goal.
The game started to open up and it was another super block by McGregor that denied Berbatov a goal this time after the forward beat his marker with pace.
After being dispossessed by Vladimir Weiss, Nani nipped to steal it back, but his low cross was again competently snuffed out by the Rangers shot stopper.
Sir Alex made his first change of the match bringing on Anderson for Scholes in attempt to fire more pace into the center of the midfield to aid their counter attacks.
The match then began to tail off, and the inspiration was went missing, which was demonstrated by Rooney’s off-balanced 25-yard effort, which end up in the crowd.
Within two minutes, though, United had three attempts at the Rangers, but Berbatov had a header saved, then a left-footed shot blocked and then Rooney’s diving header
Berbatov clipped a ball up for Rooney to run onto, but he got his angles all wrong and the shot dribbled to McGregor.
Maybe with an eye on the weekend encounter with Blackburn Rovers, Ferguson made a double change with Javier Hernandez and Gabriel Obertan replaced Berbatov and Nani, respectively.
With 12 minutes to play, Smith finally reached into his depleted subs’ bench to bring on John Fleck for Weiss, who is on loan from Manchester City.
Even though it was his first foul, Kyle Hutton earned the first yellow card of the match after completely wiping out Fabio after the full-back sent the ball forward.
Rooney then showed a glimpse of his old self, by cutting in and having a go from long-range, but his shot deflected out for a corner.
Fabio made a wonderful run into the box to meet Carrick searching pass, and Naismith clumsily kicked him, which earned him a caution as well.
Up stepped Rooney to announce his return, and he expertly sent McGregor the wrong way, and put the ball in the right corner – but his celebration showed just how much the goal meant to him and his willingness to win over the fans.
Smith made his final change by introducing former United transfer target, James Beattie, for Hutton in an attempt save his club’s bleak European hopes.
The change came to nothing, and Rangers are out of the European’s elite competition, and will now compete with United’s rival Liverpool in the Europa League.
Manchester United can now breathe easy as they are into the Knockout phase with the resilient performance against Rangers, but they still have one game left – against Valencia – in the group to see if they win Group C.
Carrick did well to boss the possession of the ball as he quarterbacked a wonderful win for United.
E. van der Sar – 6; J. O’Shea – , J. Evans – 5, C. Smalling – 6, Fabio – 7; Nani – 6 (G. Obertan – 5), M. Carrick – 7, P. Scholes – 6 (Anderson – 5), R. Giggs – 6; W. Rooney – 6, D. Berbatov – 6 (J. Hernandez – 5)
W. Rooney (87′)
Shots (On Target): 23 (7)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 14 (7)