Early Doors

Many happy returns for United

Early Doors

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The music used for the titles of live broadcasts of Capital One Cup matches is by Scottish bland-rockers Texas, which sums up the competition nicely. There's nothing exactly wrong with liking it, per se, but you have to question the taste of anyone who says it is their favourite.

It is not difficult, however, to question why tens of thousands of seats at Old Trafford were empty last night for Manchester United's 2-1 win over Newcastle United. Even for an opponent of that calibre, ticket prices of up to £52 were certainly prohibitive.

Those who did make the journey may feel they got some bang for their buck, though. They got to see youngsters Scott Wootton, Marnick Vermijl and Michael Keane make their first-team debuts in the United defence, as well as midfielder Robert Brady and Ryan Tunnicliffe from the bench. Surely, just by the law of averages, at least one of them will forge enough of a career at the club for fans to be able to say they were there for their first match.

Tunnicliffe's dad will certainly be happy he made the trip. Today he will stroll down to the bookies to collect the £10,000 winnings for a bet on his son playing for United he placed a decade ago.

They got to see Tom Cleverley score his first goal for the club despite him seemingly bringing the same shooting boots he wore on England duty recently.

They also got to see Wayne Rooney return to first-team action for the first time in a month. Rooney had been sidelined ever since Fulham's Hugo Rodallega used the studs of his boot to make an incision in the England striker's thigh with surgical precision in only the second game of the season.

Not that Rooney's injury hit United particularly hard — they won all four of their games in his absence — but they are all the better for having him back.

"It's been just over four weeks since I last played and I'm delighted to be back out on the pitch playing, and it was a good run-out for me and hopefully there's a lot more games to come," Rooney said after the match.

"I feel good, obviously it's always difficult in your first game back after a few weeks but it's great to get the minutes under my belt and hopefully that can benefit me."

It's a shame but a sad truth that Rooney sees a cup tie against Newcastle as "a good run-out", but that's the reality when a star player competes in the middle stages of the Texas of domestic trophies.

Perhaps even more important than Rooney's return, though, is that of Darren Fletcher. After coming off the bench in last week's Champions League at Galatasaray, the Scotland midfielder made his first since last November against Newcastle and played the full 90 minutes.

If United's fortunate win at Liverpool on Sunday taught us anything, it is that there is a Fletcher-shaped hole in their midfield just waiting to be plugged once more. His virtues have been extolled far too often now for him to be dubbed an unsung hero, but Fletcher's own brand of midfield discipline and endeavour are exactly what United have lacked in 2012, and may well have played a big part in them losing last season's title race so narrowly.

Fletcher's return is not just good news for United, Scotland and the player himself — soon Early Doors will no longer have to wince as it types the words 'chronic bowel inflammation', the nasty condition which kept him waylaid for nigh on a year.

With Nemanja Vidic out for two months, Fletcher's return provides a real boost to United's hopes of becoming a more solid unit. They have only kept one clean sheet in domestic football so far this season and that was against Wigan at home, a fixture which is as close to a foregone conclusion as it is possible to get in modern top-flight football in England.

United will now face Chelsea in the fifth round of the Capital One Cup, meaning they will visit Stamford Bridge twice in the space of three days at the end of October. After playing the European champions in the league on October 28, they will face them again in midweek before returning home to host Arsenal the following Saturday.

By then, Fletcher could be embedded back in the side for that heady seven-day stretch, and United would be a better team for it.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I knew John from when I was 16 years old. I played for Swindon against him when he was at West Ham. We had some wonderful times off the field. He was such a lovely man and it's a very sad day." - Manchester City ambassador Mike Summerbee pays tribute to former City manager John Bond, who died yesterday aged 79.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I'll get my fair share of goals plus I will help produce a lot of goals, that was one of the main things that I do. But I will get my fair share of goals given the opportunity." — Emile Heskey talks himself up after completing his move to A-League club Newcastle Jets. The former England striker's new fans in Australia are so excited about their new marquee signing that the club has sold out of replica shirts, and have had to order 5,000 more. On October 13 the Jets travel to face Sydney FC, a match being billed Down Under as Heskey v Del Piero.

COMING UP: There is no live football to speak of, but plenty of goodness to come during the day. Jan Molby will be filing his latest column, as will our German correspondent on the latest happenings in the Bundesliga. You will also be able to watch Tactical Brain's dissection of one of the weekend's games and the Fantasy Preview.

Elsewhere, the Super Eight phase of the World Twenty20 cricket begins today and we'll have live coverage of both matches — Sri Lanka v New Zealand (11:00) and England v West Indies (15:00).

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