If it was closure for Wayne Rooney, he certainly could not have picked a better moment to draw a line under his fractious summer at Manchester United and smile for the first time in what seems like months.
With Sir Alex Ferguson making his first appearance in the directors' box since stepping down as manager at Old Trafford in May, the man cited by Rooney as the primary factor in his determination to leave the club was afforded the best seat in the house as the player scored the match-sealing goal in the win over Crystal Palace.
While Ferguson's fellow dignitaries rose to their feet in unison as -Rooney's 82nd-minute free-kick -nestled in Julian Speroni's net, United's former manager remained seated before offering a knowing grin as Rooney (pictured), sporting a striking black headband to protect the gash that forced him out of England's recent World Cup qualifiers, held his arms aloft and beamed his delight. Rooney's smile may become a scowl again if Ferguson's autobiography, due to be published on the -striker's 28th birthday next month, reopens the can of worms that is their troubled relationship, which David Moyes spent so long attempting to resolve this summer.
Yet after a three-month transfer saga and clumsy utterances from player and club, not to mention his surprisingly swift return to action from injury, September 14 may ultimately go down as the day that Rooney turned the leaf on a new, positive chapter in his career. His goal, a 25-yard free-kick after the mercurial Belgian teenager Adnan Januzaj had been fouled by Adlene Guedioura, was merely the embellishment to an outstanding performance by Rooney.
It was a welcome display too, what with Bayer Leverkusen looming in the Champions League tomorrow. He dictated play, won 50-50 challenges, encouraged Januzaj and debutant Marouane -Fellaini and, with a sublime 30-yard pass to Robin van Persie, almost re-created the Dutchman's volleyed goal of the season against Aston Villa last April.
Van Persie could only scrape the Palace crossbar this time. Still, Rooney was everywhere and, if Ferguson felt he was damaged goods in the latter stages of last -season when he regularly dropped or substituted the forward, the Scot saw the old Rooney against -Palace and Moyes now hopes it is a sign of things to come. "I think that is right," Moyes said. "It has been so stop-start through pre-season that to get him to this situation was, I think, a big moment for Wayne. It was a great free-kick too.
The ability to get the ball up and down over the wall quickly was good. "He has got himself in a really good physical condition, albeit with a lack of match practice. The crowd have given him a great lift and hopefully he can repay them with plenty of goals. He needs a period now to get back to what he does best. In the first half he was excellent but tired in the second. "I had spoken to him to try and get 90 minutes under his belt and I thought that would help us in the long run. I could have changed it earlier but I wanted him to get those minutes because he needs it."
United, collectively, also appear to need minutes to find their stride this season. Despite dominating Palace throughout, a victory via two set-pieces ensures work is needed on breaking down opponents. But for Palace being reduced - harshly - to 10 men by referee Jon Moss on 44 minutes after Kagisho Dikgacoi's foul on Ashley Young which led to Van Persie -scoring from the spot, it may have been even more difficult for United.
Having booked Young moments earlier for diving - an issue Moyes will raise with the England player - Moss was faced with dismissing Young for a second display of simulation or sending off Dikgacoi for the foul (which the referee did not see took place outside the area). "My opinion doesn't count because the rules are the rules," Palace -manager Ian Holloway said. "The -referee has a difficult job to do and, with a crowd like that, I wouldn't like to do it."
United must improve at home to Leverkusen and at the Etihad Stadium against Man-chester City on Sunday if they are to claim crucial victories, yet with a resurgent Rooney and Fellaini and Januzaj enjoying eye-catching debuts the narrative is beginning to show some promise.