Wayne Rooney scored for the first time in two months with a strike of the quality that justifies his lucrative new Manchester United contract as the floundering English Premier League champions won 2-0 at Crystal Palace on Saturday. (Pics: Wayne Rooney - Manchester United's blue-eyed boy)
The striker volleyed in United's second, shortly after Robin Van Persie's second-half penalty, a day after ending the uncertainty over his United future by signing a new deal that could earn him more than $140 million until 2019.
Such a contract would seem to be beyond the reach of Palace, whose fans appeared to throw coins at Rooney, who flicked them back in their direction.
"It's been more or less agreed for a month now and it was just the fine details that needed sorting," said Rooney, who pushed unsuccessfully to leave United last year. "I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible and thankfully it's behind me and I can concentrate on my football."
United needs Rooney, with just 12 goals this season having missed much of January through injury, to be more prolific for it to have any chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Although United ended a three-game winless run and climbed to sixth, David Moyes' side was eight points from Liverpool in the fourth Champions League place having played an extra game.
And this was a victory against a Palace side that might have sprung from the bottom in recent months with a recovery but was still only two points above the relegation zone.
"We moved the ball well, maybe could have created more chances but overall we were in control of the game and once we got one goal we knew we'd get another and see the game out," Rooney said.
Looking at the team sheet, this is not a United side that should have taken until midway through the second half to score, or be in such a lowly position. The forward line in south London saw Rooney working in tandem with Van Persie and January signing Juan Mata.
United's teenage midfield dynamo, Adnan Januzaj, did put the ball in the net early on but it was ruled out because he appeared to control a pass from Van Persie with his arm.
And as United struggled in front of goal initially, goalkeeper David de Gea was called into action to block Marouane Chamakh's header.
United's Marouane Fellaini, starting his first game since December following wrist and groin injuries, squandered a good chance when he missed the target with the net in sight.
It was a dangerous start to the second half by Palace, with De Gea tipping over when under pressure from Glenn Murray's corner, and saving low from Jason Puncheon after Ince sliced over.
United looked unable to score, but the breakthrough came after Chamakh, the forward who was back in defense, tripped left back Patrice Evra. From the spot, Van Persie sent Julian Speroni the wrong way to make it 12 goals for the season in the 62nd minute.
Suddenly United looked a more confident attacking unit, with Mata setting up Fellaini for a low shot that was saved.
But Palace also came close to leveling, with Mile Jedinak playing in Cameron Jerome who fought off defenders to force De Gea into a low diving save with almost his first touch since coming off the bench.
United's anxieties were eased by Rooney scoring his first goal since Dec. 26, powering the ball in after Evra's cross bobbled over to him, unmarked, in a prime central position.
"Sometimes when Wayne has not got time to think, he does things naturally," Moyes said. "He has natural talent and the technique and ability to get his weight behind the ball and strike it cleanly. He works really hard for the team and some of his passing was fantastic."
It left Moyes relieved that he prevented Rooney from defecting to a rival.
"He would have been too difficult to replace," Moyes said. "There aren't enough top players out there that you can get cheaply or easily. Wayne's one of them, one of the top players."