PRESS BOX VIEW ? TIMES

Last updated : 30 January 2006 By editor

‘From Bryan Robson to Ince to Roy Keane, (the midfield) area has always been dominated by figures of stature. In recent months, it appears to have been filled with whoever is available and, after the conversion of Alan Smith from striker to holding player, yesterday threw up the remarkable experiment of playing Wayne Rooney alongside Rio Ferdinand.

No lack of stature or talent there, it must be conceded, and they made light work of the Wolverhampton Wanderers trio lined up against them. It said everything that Ince was their best player given that, at 38, any forward foray required leave of absence for the next five minutes. Mark Kennedy and Darren Anderton were bypassed, the latter so anonymous that it took a Tannoy announcement to reveal that he had been withdrawn at half-time.

Ferdinand and Rooney were free to enjoy themselves, but whether this was a glimpse into the future or a high-class way of muddling through will, for now, have to remain between Ferguson and his tactics board. It is not the first time in recent weeks that Ferdinand has been deployed in central midfield but his manager once again sought to play down the idea that this was a long-term strategy.

United continue to advance on the two domestic cups and Ferguson could be pleased with a week that, aside from the knockout successes, yielded a Premiership victory over Liverpool. The signing of Vidic and the return to fitness of Saha have increased his options.

Rooney’s form is so wonderful that, even in central midfield yesterday, it was almost inevitable that he would be one of United’s best players, but it still amounted to a makeshift pairing with Ferdinand — albeit one that cost £57 million to assemble and would be the envy of just about everyone else in today’s fifth-round draw.’