Manchester United continued their gradual recovery from their humbling defeat against their bitter Premier League rivals Manchester City, making it three wins from three after they laboured to a 2-0 victory over Champions League minnows Otelul Galati at Old Trafford last night.
Sir Alex Ferguson recalled the recently much maligned Rio Ferdinand in place of the suspended Nemanja Vidic, despite the Scot's pre-match warning that suggested the England veteran was no longer certain of a starting berth at the club. Phil Jones, the player widely tipped as Ferdinand's successor, once again impressed at right-back and it was the former Blackburn Rovers' starlet's marauding run and cross that was finished by the wandering Antonio Valencia to give the Red Devils an early lead inside eight minutes.
Wayne Rooney retained his place in the unfamiliar role of central midfield following his performance against Everton on Saturday, and in front of the recently retired Paul Scholes, the talismanic 26-year-old was the standout performer on a night when his side toiled against their well organised Romanian opposition.
So often the architect of mercurial performances from the heart of Sir Alex Ferguson's midfield during his illustrious Manchester United career, Scholes must have noted the ease at which Rooney controlled his team's tempo with an array of beautifully executed long and short passes, when space in the midfield was at a premium.
Ferguson's lengthy pursuit of Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder and his tentative flirtations with Tottenham Hotspur's Luka Modric illustrated United's desire for a midfield schemer to replace the aforementioned Scholes this summer, but Rooney offered an eye-catching glimpse of his undoubted ability and versatility on a night when many of his teammates flattered to deceive.
Anderson, back in the side following a hugely irresponsible performance against Manchester City, was guilty of giving the ball away on numerous occasions during the early exchanges and although he improved during the second half, most notably when he came close to scoring after a swift exchange with the ever languid Dimitar Berbatov, the Brazilian was too complacent and ponderous in possession.
Michael Owen started the match but his only meaningful contribution to the game sadly proved to be his last. The striker's superb movement in getting to the front post aided Phil Jones' cross that was eventually met by Valencia, but the 31-year-old was substituted shortly afterwards complaining of a tight quad. Javier Hernandez replaced the forlorn Owen and looked lively throughout but rarely threatened Branko Grahovac in the Otelul goal.
Despite United's early opener, the near full capacity crowd were frustrated by the resilience and the aggressive pressing game engineered by Otelul Galati coach Dorinel Munteanu. Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and Fabio at left-back were harassed in possession throughout, while Nani struggled to impose himself on the persistent Cornel Râpă and the towering Sergiu Ioan Viorel Costin.
The largely redundant David de Gea was called into action shortly before half-time, when Nani meekly surrendered possession on the half-way line to allow Ionut Neagu a chance on goal. The ever improving Spaniard made a superb reflex save after the largely untroubled Ferdinand deflected Neagu's shot goalwards.
The defending Premier League champions toiled during the second half and although Jones and Rooney continued to impress, it took until the 87th minute to guarantee all three points after the latter's shot cruelly deflected off Cristian Sarghi past a despairing Grahovac.
In his post-match press conference, Ferguson was quick to praise his makeshift midfielder but suggested Rooney would return to his customary position when the likes of the injured Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick returned to fitness.
"It's only a short term thing really, to cover injuries we have in midfield and to give us a but more defensive strength," Ferguson said.
"I think he was our best player. He showed great awareness of that role. His selection of passes at times was very good and showed great energy and determination - we got a really good performance out of him tonight.
"We had injuries and that is one of the reasons we played him there. Cleverley is injured, Carrick is injured, Darren Fletcher played on Saturday but it was better he played next Saturday. It was an option for us and a good option because he has all the qualities you need to be a central midfield player.
"The first thing you have to say about him is that he receives the ball very well. He is aided by the fact he plays in a forward role, when receiving the ball is more of an issue but that was an advantage for him tonight. I am not surprised the team we were playing against were aggressive in defending so he has to take credit in being able to handle that part."
United now top their group on goal difference and will finish as group winners if they beat Benifca, who could only manage a draw against FC Basle.