While Cardiff will feel they did enough to deserve a share of the points from this game, there was no question that United had the chances to put it to bed both before and after the home team’s late equaliser. While it was clear from the early minutes that Wayne Rooney’s name would be prominent in the post-match analysis, few would have predicted it would have been partly due to a failure, when presented with an opportunity to win the game, even to attempt a shot.
There will be some who will claim Rooney ought to have been sent off for an early kick out at Mutch. They may have a point, though decisions like that rarely get made in the first ten minutes of the game and much of the hysterical pontificating about the incident that will no doubt ensue will be purely due to the team and the player involved. Having escaped with a yellow, it was Rooney who opened the scoring for United: a poor pass from Turner let in Valencia and, when his pass into the box was deftly flicked on via the heel of Chicharito, the United number 10 made no mistake.
A Cardiff equaliser, however, looked more and more probable as the half went on and they were rewarded for their endeavours when a classy pass from Mutch found United old boy Frazier Campbell, who finished with a low shot. In truth, it looked unlikely that United would go into the interval in front, but the Reds snatched a goal just before half-time when Evra made a run into the box and met Rooney’s corner with a decisive near-post header.
Early in the second half, Fellaini and Smalling both went close to emulating Evra’s first half achievement, but both found Marshall in the Cardiff goal in resolute mood. The same may be said for Campbell, who pounced on Cleverley’s Turner-esque misplaced pass and beat De Gea, only to see his cool chip bounce away off the far post. After this, while Cardiff showed enough purpose and physical presence to get themselves back into the game, they appeared to be using an out-of-date text book on De Gea and their set pieces were generally wasted when aimed at the United goalkeeper, who dealt with them comfortably.
Welbeck, who made his return to action from the substitutes’ bench, might have finished it for United when Rooney put him through ten minutes from time, but he blasted his shot wide and, with the game moving into stoppage time, it was Cardiff who grabbed a late goal. On this occasion, the free kick from Whittingham was swung not into the path of De Gea but towards the head of Kim Bo-Kyung, who finished decisively.
Unquestionably, the best chance for United to snatch something from the game would, you would think, appear to be to find Rooney through on goal with an apparently easy opportunity to stroke the ball home past the keeper. That this was exactly what happened, and that Rooney refused the invitation to shoot and opted to try to set up Welbeck instead, provided the game’s most bizarre moment and meant that United left Wales with only a share of the points. It’s clear that Cardiff are good enough on their home ground to take points of a lot of teams this season, but the spurning of such a golden opportunity to win the game will not, you suspect, be easy for Rooney to get out of his head tonight and for some time to come.