Rooney gets silent treatment
The Britannia Stadium
Wayne Rooney's tarnished reputation was brandished around The Britannia Stadium as Manchester United's heroes were celebrated in song.
Eric Cantona, George Best and - most intriguingly - Cristiano Ronaldo all felt the full force of the affections of the travelling following as United ended a week of Rooney-instigated turbulence with victory at Stoke City.
The one pointed and glaring exception from this glittering cast list was Rooney, celebrating his lucrative new five-year contract and his 25th birthday 3,500 miles away from The Potteries in Dubai.
And if any supporters were tempted to let their thoughts wander to the individual who played fast and loose with their emotions, they were soon banished by the rich promise contained in the performance of injured Rooney's replacement, Javier Hernandez.
Hernandez scored both United goals that gave them their first away win in the Premier League this season, three points that were demanded on so many levels after a week that threatened to seriously damage the club's standing.
It was victory at the end of a week when Rooney lost his lustre among so many football fans inside and outside Old Trafford, and Ferguson lost a little of his own sparkle because he was forced to admit he could not do without a player who had shown such open disrespect to United, his team-mates and their supporters.
Hernandez has now scored four goals in his last five appearances - photo: Getty
And Ferguson's latest complaint after this 2-1 win that dealing with agents can be "difficult" continues to have a hollow ring as he found no problem in dealing with Rooney's representative Paul Stretford when he wished to sign him from Everton as a teenager in 2004.
Rooney was still the main topic of conversation despite his absence from The Britannia, but if he was relaxing in Dubai hoping to hear about the celebrations that greeted his return to the fold and favour, he would have been sorely disappointed.
True, the invective that stretched from banners at Old Trafford to balaclava-clad mobs outside his Prestbury home and death threats daubed on posters outside a Manchester city centre store had gone.
In its place, however, was a deafening and significant silence as United's fans studiously ignored the opportunity to throw out a public olive branch to their almost-wandering star. There was no ill-feeling towards Rooney, but no obvious signs of affection either. No mention of absent friends.
And this is entirely understandable. Rooney cannot behave in the manner that resulted in such anger being directed towards him this week and expect instant re-acceptance once the new, vastly richer, deal is in place.
Damage has been done and United's supporters rightly expect to see signs of his repentance in a return to form on the field before the road to repairing their relationship with Rooney can start.
Stoke City's fans, in contrast, did not miss the opportunity to remind United of their troubled week. It came in the form of loud taunts that Rooney had effectively claimed their squad might not be equipped to win major trophies, several tasty banners and in the shape of three large and garishly-attired "ladies" offering birthday greetings and more besides.
Ferguson will hope this hard-earned but deserved win can begin the renewal after a week in which he feared he would lose United's most treasured playing possession, but ended in confirmation that he may have unearthed another precious gem in Hernandez.
If Rooney has any complaints about the quality of United's squad and Ferguson's signings, he cannot mean the 22-year-old Mexican who made it four goals in his last five appearances since his £6m arrival from Chivas de Guadalajara in July.
It is almost too soon to make such glowing comparisons, but there is a touch of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about the manner in which Hernandez goes about his business, from the baby-faced expression to a natural instinct for goals.
"Chicharito" (The Little Pea) was afforded a hero's reception at the final whistle from fans and team-mates alike as he made them forget about Rooney for a day and showed he can be a major figure in the future Ferguson plans for Old Trafford.
Hernandez may look like a schoolboy, but he is tough with the traditional Mexican sportsman's work ethic. And all the early signs are that he has a ruthless edge in front of goal.
Hernandez showed athleticism to divert in Nemanja Vidic's header for United's first and a poacher's talent when he pounced from close-range after Tuncay's brilliant equaliser threatened to add to the list of lost leads that have so disappointed Ferguson this season.
He was also narrowly off target with a chance between his goals and his all-round link-up play, especially with Dimitar Berbatov, was a delight.
Hernandez's winner was greeted ecstatically by Manchester United's fans - photo: Reuters
For Stoke, although second best, there was real disappointment that they could not hang on to the point Tuncay's curling angled finished nine minutes from time looked to have given them.
And there was a sense of injustice too. Only referee Andre Marriner will know what thought processes led him to spare Gary Neville a red card when he followed up a tackle on Matthew Etherington that brought a booking with one that was even more reckless on the same player - and yet stayed on.
It was not the moan of a beaten manager when Pulis asked: "If it was a Stoke City player playing at Old Trafford and committed two fouls like that, what do you think would have happened?"
It was a genuine grievance - and we think we all know what the answer would be. It may not have changed the course of the game, but Pulis was right to think Stoke should have had the chance to find out.
United deserved the victory, and this week of so many damaging headlines deserved to have a new hero to illuminate this game.
Hernandez took on Rooney's role and his hero status with an ease that marks him out as an outstanding young talent and left one question hanging in the air.
When Rooney is fit and ready to resume, where will he play?