Vitally, too, given that it extended Manchester United’s unbeaten run to 17 games. But long after that achievement is forgotten, this one will be remembered.
Rooney is United’s record goalscorer. He has scored 250 goals for one of the world’s biggest clubs. He has pushed one of the game’s greatest players, Sir Bobby Charlton, into second place for a second time.
To be the most prolific player in United and England’s history is a monumental achievement, the culmination of a career. “He is a legend in the history of our club and English football,” said Jose Mourinho.
It took Rooney 4498 days and 546 games from his debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce as an 18-year-old to the moment that in injury time at the bet365 Stadium yesterday when he rolled back the years, reminded us of his teenage brilliance and spared the Special One another defeat at Stoke.
Wayne Rooney scored to rescue a draw for Manchester United
His was a wonderful free kick, struck from an acute angle, flying past goalkeeper Lee Grant. It was hit with precision, pace, perfection. “A great goal,” said Mourinho.
“It was a bit of magic,” said Stoke boss Mark Hughes. “Sir Bobby’s record stood for 40-odd years. A lot of good strikers have come and gone in that time and not got anywhere near it.”
Hughes himself got 163 United goals. He fell 86 short of the old record.
So, for the first time since the watching Charlton overhauled his old team-mate Denis Law, he is not United’s highest scorer. For Sir Alex Ferguson, another in attendance, it was another goal in Fergie Time. For Mourinho, it was another lifeline.
Stoke players celebrate scoring against Manchester United
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic got a late leveller against Liverpool last week. Rooney’s goal came even later. He has gone from United’s superstar to their super-sub but he made a difference when he came off the bench.
He set up a chance when Marcus Rashford shot wide. His own opportunity seemed to have gone when he headed past the post. But then Joe Allen fouled Rashford, Rooney stood over the set-piece and glory beckoned.
“Wayne thoroughly deserves his place in the history books,” said Ferguson. Rooney added: “It means a hell of a lot. I am very proud. It is difficult at the minute to be over-pleased because of the result but in the grand scheme it is huge honour.”
Mourinho believes it should be celebrated. But he is also pleased the prospect of the record is no longer hanging over Rooney. He only scored five goals in his previous 36 games. The prospect of the milestone slowed him down.
“Since the beginning of the season,” said Mourinho. “For too long. You should talk about Wayne’s record for 24 hours and then finish and then let him be a normal guy.”
Wayne Rooney could not salvage a point for Manchester United
Mourinho’s problem was that this was a normal scoreline for him. Two more dropped points. A similar story of chances missed and a goal conceded.
“We drew too many matches,” Mourinho said. “The opponent score without creating one single chance and for us to score we have to create six or seven. We risk losing the match by scoring in our own goal.”
If it was a day for Rooney to remember, it was one for Juan Mata to forget. Brought in to score goals, the Spaniard did. Just at the wrong end.
When Erik Pieters crossed, Mata stuck out a foot and deflected the ball past David de Gea. Having scored an open goal, Mata missed an open goal after the most inviting of crosses from Ibrahimovic.
But United grew stronger as the game went on. Mourinho’s substitutes made a difference. Jesse Lingard clipped the bar. And then Rooney found the net and the tributes began.
STOKE: Grant; Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters; Whelan, Adam (Afellay, 62); Shaqiri (Ngoy, 73), Allen, Arnautovic (Imbula, 88); Crouch.
MAN UTD: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Blind; Fellaini (Rashford, 56), Herrera, Pogba; Mata (Rooney, 67), Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan (Lingard, 73).
Referee: M Clattenburg.
Man of the Match: Bruno Martins Indi – A defiant display at the heart of the Stoke defence. The Dutchman kept Ibrahimovic unusually quiet.