Relief finally swept through Old Trafford inside the final quarter of an hour. This night shaped up as another inert exercise in frustration for Manchester United until Wayne Rooney popped up at the far post. Rooney diverted United from the prospect of a fourth straight scoreless draw and secured a cathartic 1-0 victory over CSKA Moscow on Tuesday in the process.
Rooney collected his 30th Champions League goal to release all of the frustration and tension and round off a well constructed move. Michael Carrick benefited from Marcus Rojo's industry on the left and picked out Jesse Lingard with a diagonal toward the right. Lingard squared at the first attempt for the unmarked Rooney to provide necessary salvation after 79 minutes.
United required Rooney's intervention to keep their Champions League campaign on course and supply some necessary thrust to all of the possession in midfield. Louis van Gaal's side performed well enough to win without particularly impressing against an organized CSKA side, but David De Gea and Chris Smalling still produced vital blocks on second-half substitute Seydou Doumbia to set the stage for Rooney's hero turn.
"I am a very happy coach because it was very difficult to make that goal," van Gaal said in the post-match flash zone. "CSKA Moscow was very good and organized. They played very compact. And then it is always difficult to score goals. All of the teams who are coming here to Old Trafford are defending. That's also why we don't score."
It proved a critical goal for United's psyche and their chances of securing a place in the round of 16. United now sit atop Group B with seven points from four matches, while PSV Eindhoven and VfL Wolfsburg are tied in second on six points after PSV's 2-0 victory over Wolfsburg in Eindhoven on Tuesday. CSKA are bottom with four points. The narrow margins ensure United must keep their focus ahead of PSV's visit to Old Trafford later this month.
There were flickers of intent in the early stages as United tried to end a run of three scoreless draws in all competitions. Carrick pointed a profitable way forward with a long diagonal to carve open the CSKA defense, but Rooney dragged wide from the resulting chance after just three minutes. Rooney fared better when he slotted through the line for Lingard only to see Igor Akinfeev rush off his line to quell the threat.
United opened with the proper application and the proper tempo without sustaining those qualities as the first half progressed. The familiar, safe cadence in possession emerged with United shorn of the necessary incisiveness and menace. CSKA set out its stall and watched United move the ball around without devising a route through often enough.
Rooney fluttered around earnestly underneath the often-isolated Anthony Martial up front, but the occasional opportunities fell elsewhere. Lingaard missed from a decent position just after the half-hour, while Marcus Rojo sliced wide on the volley after Ashley Young picked him out with a deep diagonal toward the far post.
United manager Louis van Gaal opted to stay the course at halftime with his side appearing somewhat lively in attack. Rojo squandered an opportunity as the second half opened as his place as the primary threat in the United attack continued. CSKA eventually threw Doumbia into the fray with the possibility of a counter increasing by the minute against a United side yearning to end its drought. Marouane Fellaini climbed off the bench to replace Martial for the final half-hour as United searched for that critical opener.
There were a couple of penalty shouts turned down as United pressed in the second half, but Rooney's inability to turn home from four yards underscored the angst in the ground. Juan Mata accomplished all of the hard work, but Rooney rather fittingly could not extract the ball from his own feet.
CSKA nearly punished United on the break after 78 minutes. Doumbia and Ahmed Musa conspired to play straight through the stretched United defense with pace. Doumbia saw his first shot blocked by the emerging De Gea and watched Smalling recover in time to charge down the second attempt toward the vacated goal.
The scrambling eventually paved the way for United's cathartic goal mere second later when Rooney nodded home from close range. The goal ended Rooney's 452-minute scoreless streak in all competitions, according to Opta statistics, and provided that necessary ruthlessness at the right time. United are not quite back to their menacing best, but they hope this first step points the way forward toward the round of 16 and a more reliable streak in front of goal nevertheless.
PSV Eindhoven 2-0 Wolfsburg
Juergen Locadia and Luuk de Jong scored second-half goals as PSV Eindhoven beat Wolfsburg 2-0 in the Champions League to move off the bottom of Group B.
Locadia, who missed a penalty against Wolfsburg two weeks ago, made no mistake this time when he ran onto a through pass by De Jong and slid the ball past goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and just inside the near post in the 55th minute. De Jong added to his assist with his first Champions League goal in the 86th, skillfully lobbing Benaglio after a speculative pass from the left touch line by Andres Guardado.
PSV's second victory in Group B sent it second, level on six points with third-place Wolfsburg. Manchester United went top of the group thanks to a 1-0 victory over CSKA Moscow.
"We can be very proud," De Jong said. "We played a great match, gave almost nothing away."
Wolfsburg only managed two meaningful efforts all night. Striker Bas Dost was denied by PSV goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet in the 22nd minute and Zoet easily blocked a powerful shot by Naldo in the 82nd.
Locadia came closest to breaking the deadlock in the last minute of a dour first half when he latched onto a through ball from Davy Proepper and fired through the legs of defender Luiz Gustavo only to see Benaglio dive to his left to block the shot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.