It took a while to get going, but the post-David-Moyes era at Old Trafford began in encouraging fashion with an emphatic 4-0 win over Norwich City in Ryan Giggs’s first match in charge.
Giggs got a rousing reception from the crowd as he walked out of the tunnel for the first time as manager of Manchester United and took his place alongside fellow class of ’92 members Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt and behind another in Phil Neville on the bench. But it took until the 41st minute for his interim reign to see its first goal. Wayne Rooney converted from the penalty spot after Danny Welbeck had been fouled by Steven Whittaker. The points were then made safe after the interval with a fine strike by Rooney and two close-range finishes from Juan Mata.
Giggs’s imprint on the team had been felt before the first whistle. Of Moyes’s two big-money signings, Juan Mata began on the bench, while Marouane Fellaini didn’t even make the squad. Both were likely victims of Giggs’s voiced desire to have Manchester United playing at a high tempo once again.
The increased vigor that had been called for and that might have been expected following the removal of an under-performing manager and the elevation of a club icon was not immediately in evidence, however. A Norwich side determined to frustrate and try and earn a vital point to aid their increasingly precarious hopes of Premier League survival held them at bay. But some awful defensive work led to Whittaker bringing down Welbeck when the United forward had a clear sight of goal and conceding a penalty and being lucky to remain on the pitch.
Rooney’s strike set the stage for a much-improved second-half showing and for the United forward to double his side’s lead with a fine 25-yard effort. The team became more fluent still with Mata’s introduction and the Spaniard’s double made it five goals in his last four appearances. Much work remains but there was enough quality on show to provide further evidence that United should never be in their current lowly position as well as reason for encouragement for whoever replaces Moyes on a permanent basis.
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To begin with there was more of the ponderous and unimaginative football that had been seen for much of the season under Moyes. With Welbeck and Rooney up front, the movement wasn’t what it needed to be to provide options for the player on the ball and disturb a diligent Norwich side, who came into the match just a point above the drop zone.
Toward the end of the half, a real purposefulness began to develop, particularly in getting the ball out wide quickly. Another of Giggs’s changes had been to restore the partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand and have Phil Jones at right-back rather than Smalling. It proved a shrewd one, with Jones’ greater comfort on the ball a major factor.
His cross was almost turned in instinctively by Shinji Kagawa at the back post before he helped create the opening goal. Jones’ low ball into the box was missed by one Norwich defender, went through the legs of another and then, as Welbeck was about to surely put the ball into the net Whittaker dragged him back. Having given a penalty, it was hard to see any justification for Lee Probert not producing a red card for the denial of a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Still, there were no vociferous complaints from Norwich’s opponents and Rooney confidently converted from the spot to get Giggs’ reign up and running. The 40-year-old, decked out in a suit and choosing not to involve himself in the squad, then had his first half-time team talk to deliver. What transpired on the pitch suggested it was a highly successful one.
United came out playing with a higher tempo and doubled their lead within three minutes. Rooney easily cut inside past two players from the left then, with neither center-back coming out to close him down, took advantage of the chance to shoot and, despite slipping as he did so, finding the corner of John Ruddy’s net with a fine curling effort.
Giggs’s first substitution could not have gone any better either. Mata came on for Welbeck, giving United a fluent three-man line behind Rooney. And having been on the pitch less than three minutes, United’s record signing found the net. Rooney had just tested Ruddy with another curling shot when Jones put in a dangerous cross and Mata was left free to volley into the net from the center of the six-yard box. It was a similar method that left to Mata’s second just 10 minutes later. This time it originated from a Patrice Evra cross that saw Antonio Valencia volley into the ground and back across the face of goal for Mata to head home.
The scoreline should have been made more emphatic with another substitute, Javier Hernandez, wasting a golden chance to find the net, but Giggs could reflect on a near-perfect debut more than 23 years after his first as a player.