Wayne Rooney made his comeback for Manchester United’s Under-21s in front of the watching Louis van Gaal on Monday night after two months out injured.
The England skipper, 30, lasted 61 minutes playing alongside the likes of Phil Jones against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford in his first outing since February 13, with a knee problem having ruled him out of United’s past dozen games.
Van Gaal had declared Rooney could “maybe” feature in the FA Cup quarter-final replay at West Ham in two days’ time should he come through this contest without any trouble and the Dutchman will have been enthused by his striker’s fitness, even if he was unable to find the net.
Crucially, for both United and England ahead of Euro 2016, Rooney managed to avoid the type of injury which Joe Rothwell sustained in the first half when Boro skipper Jonny Burn smashed into his shin with a studs-up challenge that ended his evening prematurely.
Rooney showed a willingness to get on the ball and registered three attempts on goal, firing a tame 30-yard half-volley at Boro goalkeeper Joe Fryer before striking his other two tries, including a second-half free-kick, over the crossbar.
England’s all-time record goalscorer also displayed his disappointment at referee Anthony Backhouse for his failure to punish Burns for his horrific lunge on Rothwell.
It was Rooney’s one-two with Jamie Weir that resulted in his strike partner testing Fryer at the near post prior to the interval, but it was still 0-0 by the time United’s number 10 was withdrawn just after the hour mark for Axel Tuanzebe.
Six minutes after that substitution, Paddy McNair broke into the box unmarked and collected Andreas Pereira’s cross to break the deadlock and earn United a 1-0 win.
Rooney’s return for the season’s run-in will provide a boost to Van Gaal, whose side have scored just five times in their past eight fixtures, with Ashley Young playing up front in the second half against Tottenham on Sunday.
He was brought on at White Hart Lane for home-grown teenager striker Marcus Rashford, whose elevation to the senior team in February came following the injuries to both Rooney and Anthony Martial.
Rooney also has the extra incentive of ensuring he is on Roy Hodgson’s team-sheet come the European Championships in France this summer, having seen Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy continue to star for both club and country while he has been out.
The run-out also proved to be a useful exercise for central defender Jones, who looked far more up to speed, having been off the pace seven days earlier on his comeback in the same stadium against Chelsea.