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Van Persie double takes glare off shaky defence

Wednesday, 3 October 2012 - 11:45am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

It is becoming a recurring theme of Manchester United's season, but Robin van Persie surely cannot continue to make up for his team's defensive failings as he did once again to ensure Champions League success in Romania.

It is becoming a recurring theme of Manchester United's season, but Robin van Persie surely cannot continue to make up for his team's defensive failings as he did once again to ensure Champions League success in Romania.

Different country, same old story. For the sixth time in nine games this season, United allowed their opponents to take the lead, but for the seventh time in seven games, Van Persie scored at the other end to pay off another slice of his pounds 22million transfer fee.

So while his defenders will continue to have him pulling his hair out, Ferguson can at least rely on Van Persie to come to the rescue.

And even more encouragingly, the sight of Wayne Rooney creating both goals for the Dutchman will only add to Ferguson's belief that the pair can provide the goals that will lead to some kind of glory this season. Ferguson's pre-match comments relating to his concerns over United's recent defending left little doubt as to his annoyance at the porous nature of his back four, but injuries prevented the Scot from making the changes he perhaps favoured against Cluj.

So while the United manager made six changes to the team beaten 3-2 at Old Trafford by Tottenham on Saturday, the back-four overrun by Gareth Bale and co were left untouched.

The only alteration to the defensive unit exposed so brutally by Spurs was David De Gea's selection ahead of Anders Lindegaard in goal, but the Spaniard was merely benefiting from Ferguson's indecisive goalkeeping rotation policy. As a result, Lindegaard is expected to reclaim his place at Newcastle on Sunday.

On present evidence, though, it is going to take more than the return of Denmark's second-choice goalkeeper to rectify the problems that have become a malaise.

Ferguson had made it clear, however, that another poor start would not be acceptable, insisting in his touchline interview prior to kick-off that "a bad one would be a disaster". Whether holding out until the 14th minute constituted an improvement on the second-minute goal conceded against Tottenham is a moot point, but United hardly raced out of the traps at the start of the game.

Ferguson's team were slow and ponderous, their passing was poor and, only three minutes into the game, Cluj almost claimed the lead when Darren Fletcher's miscued header from a Rafael Bastos corner flew narrowly wide of De Gea's far post.

Having selected a starting line-up that included Rooney and Van Persie together for the first time, Ferguson would have expected more cut and thrust from his team against a Cluj outfit who, regardless of their five straight wins in Europe this season, are firmly among the minnows of the Champions League.

Rooney offered United's best hope of an early goal, however, with the striker teeing up Anderson to shoot wide from 20 yards before he forced a save from goalkeeper Mario Felgueiras with a long-range effort of his own.

But it was Cluj who scored first, deservedly so, when Greek forward Pantelis Kapetanos punished United for their latest display of slack defending.

Bastos's cross-field ball to Modou Sougou was impressive, but Patrice Evra's defence of Sougou's cross was less so, with the full-back providing as much resistance as a lace curtain as the ball was delivered into the penalty area.

With Kapetanos standing 10 yards out, Jonny Evans allowed him far too much space and the centre-forward beat De Gea with a first-time shot into the far corner.

First blood to Cluj in Transylvania, but for the sixth time in nine games this season, United had conceded the first goal.

United's response was not immediate. More stray passing and heavy touches followed, so they were fortunate that a free-kick offered them a chance to equalise on 29 minutes.

But in a manner matching their performance, Van Persie drew United level with a scruffy goal, but diverting Rooney's free-kick in off the crossbar, courtesy of his right shoulder.

Having dragged United back into the game, Van Persie at least spared United from the half-time dressing down they may have expected, but Ferguson was still infuriated by Cluj's goal at the interval, describing it as a 'shocker, an absolute shocker.' United simply had to remember the old adage that attack is the best form of defence and they at least went at Cluj with more purpose in the second-half.

And Rooney, excelling in the deeper-lying role between the midfield and front two of Van Persie and Javier Hernandez, was able to turn provider for United's pounds 22m Dutch forward once again four minutes after the re-start.

After laying the ball off to Rooney inside the centre-circle, Van Persie sprinted goalwards before his team-mate drifted a 40-yard pass into the penalty area.

Van Persie escaped the attentions of the dozing Cluj centre-half Radu before beating Felgueiras with a flick of his left foot - or ankle, to be precise.

One off the shoulder and now one off the ankle, but it is the number of goals Van Persie scores, rather than the manner of them, that matters to Ferguson.

If only the United manager could rely on his defenders to deliver as regularly as Van Persie.

Having taken the lead, Ferguson would have hoped to see his team snuff out Cluj's ambitions by adding to their advantage, but the back four continued to leave gaps at the back.

Kapetanos went close to scoring his second on 52 minutes when he volleyed over from Gabriel Muresan's cross, while De Gea was forced to produce a stunning fingertip save to push Cadu's header over the bar after he had been left unmarked from Bastos's corner.

De Gea, making a late bid to steal the headlines from Van Persie, then secured victory with a reflex save to keep out Bastos's injury-time header.


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