The England striker powers United to the top of the English Premier League [AFP]

Wayne Rooney's four-goal performance helped ensure Manchester United's focus returned to on-field affairs as the defending English Premier League champions moved to the top of the table for the first time in more than three months with a 4-0 victory over Hull.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken of the need to give Rooney a rest but the England forward's form and importance to his team make such a move unlikely any time soon.

It took Rooney just seven minutes against struggling Hull to illustrate the point perfectly to his manager and also to ease the pressure and growing dissatisfaction around Old Trafford in the wake of recent developments off the field surrounding American owners the Glazer family.

The announcement this week that United's debts stand at $1.17 billion did not impress many of the club's supporters, even though a successful bond issue will allow the Glazers to re-structure that debt.

Ferguson felt moved, in his pre-match programme notes, to call upon supporters to show unity behind their club and cease their anti-Glazer agitating.

However, as long as Rooney remains fit and in the sort of goal-scoring form he showed against Hull, United's future does not look quite so precarious.

Stunning Rooney

United's first goal came after Park Ji-Sung played the ball into the path of Paul Scholes, who drilled in a vicious shot which Hull goal keeper Boaz Myhill could only parry.

Rooney responded more quickly than anyone else on the field, gathering the loose ball and steadying himself before burying his 17th goal of the season into the gaping goal.

Goal number 18 came in the 82nd minute after Myhill had made a poor job of dealing with a long-range Nani free-kick. Rooney himself kept the loose ball in play and Nani found the forward, who finished clinically from 15 yards.

The hat-trick was just three minutes away as the irrepressible forward ran in to meet Nani's hanging cross and head into the goal from six yards.

For good measure, the 20th goal of Rooney's increasingly remarkable season followed in injury-time as he collected Dimitar Berbatov's neat flick, saw three defenders back off, and converted his shot from 12 yards.

Threat

Results & fixtures

Wednesday January 20

 Arsenal 4-2 Bolton
 Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham

Saturday January 23

 Man Utd 4-0 Hull

Tuesday January 26

 Bolton v Burnley
 Portsmouth v West Ham
 Tottenham v Fulham,
 Wolverhampton v Liverpool

Rooney, partnered by Michael Owen, who was making just his fifth league start of the campaign, was comfortably his team's greatest threat, from early in the contest, and, midway through the first half, almost had a hand in two more goals.

First, he met Nani's cross with a devastating shot on the turn which looped off a defender and behind for a corner.

Then, seconds later, Rooney produced an audacious back heel which played in Owen but the former England striker was slow to respond and Andy Dawson made the recovering tackle.

Rooney was again the threat, just after the half hour, when George Boateng brought down Park on the edge of the area and Rooney curled a free-kick beyond the Hull wall and inches past Myhill's right-hand post.

While United only led by a goal, there was still anxiety, not aided when Jonny Evans' weak back header almost allowed Nick Barmby to equalise, his shot being saved well by Edwin van der Sar.

The other side of Rooney's football personality was on display just before the half-time whistle when he was booked for hacking at Stephen Hunt out of frustration having just lost the ball badly to Ricardo Garcia.

Also before the interval, Owen was on the end of the move of the match, a flowing passing sequence which ended with Nani's neat through ball and a weak tap straight at Myhill from the out-of-sorts striker.

It was a similar story after the re-start with United creating enough chances to win the game comfortably before Rooney put the outcome beyond all doubt with a devastating spell of three more goals in the final eight minutes.

Source: AFP