By Mike Collett
LONDON (Reuters) - Wayne Rooney scored twice, the first an astonishing 58-metre volleyed contender for Goal of the Season, as Manchester United won their second game in four days by brushing aside West Ham United 2-0 at Upton Park on Saturday.
The two first-half goals moved Rooney, 28, above Jack Rowley into third place on United's all-time scoring chart with 212 behind Bobby Charlton (249) and Denis Law (237).
The England forward struck his astonishing first goal in the seventh minute from just inside West Ham's half after winning a battle for a loose ball with central defender James Tomkins.
Rooney, skippering the side, glanced up and saw Spanish goalkeeper Adrian off his line before blasting his shot high into the air and watching it bounce before landing in the net.
Rooney joked that the effort was even better than David Beckham's famous goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996 and the former United midfielder, watching in the directors box, gave a big smile of recognition as it went in.
Asked about his wonder strike, Rooney told Sky Sports: "I think it's just instinct. I've turned, had a quick look and seen the goalkeeper is off his line. I've tried that many times but thankfully it's gone in.
"You try them in training, you try it in games, but it's not often they come off. When they do it's great for me and the team to put us in such a position."
The current, transitional United side are nowhere near the heights United reached when Charlton and Law were in their pomp, but neither did they look like a team teetering on the edge of a crisis with their manager David Moyes about to lose his job.
They appeared well organized in defense, quick on the break and far too good for the home side who have now lost 10 of their last 11 Premier League games to the visitors.
West Ham had chances and Andy Carroll's aerial power posed a number of threats but midfielder Michael Carrick, playing in an unusual central defensive role, handled him with the assurance he showed in that position years ago as a teenager.
"Overall we played some good stuff," added Rooney. "I thought we defended really well. I thought Michael Carrick at the back, in a difficult game, was outstanding for us so there are a lot of positives for us."
Last weekend United were savaged for a woeful performance in a 3-0 home loss to Liverpool which left the defending champions 18 points behind leaders Chelsea with nine matches to play.
That gap remains following Chelsea's 6-0 thrashing of Arsenal, their biggest victory over their London rivals, in the lunchtime sunshine in west London earlier on Saturday.
But in east London on a cool spring evening United continued to restore some pride and belief in themselves following their 3-0 victory over Olympiakos Piraeus on Wednesday that saw them qualify for the last eight of the Champions League.
"Today was a good result after last week (against Liverpool)," said Rooney. "I think the win on Wednesday against Olympiakos has given us all a big lift and you could see today the confidence running through the team."
Moyes made six changes from the team that beat the Greek champions and was without hat-trick scorer Robin van Persie who will be out for up to six weeks with a knee injury.
However, United were still the better team from the start and never looked back once Rooney opened the scoring.
He doubled the lead after 33 minutes when he ran the length of the pitch in a United counter-attack.
As the ball broke out wide to Ashley Young on the right, Rooney continued his advance into the box and was in the perfect place to steer home Mark Noble's poor clearance first time.
Moyes was a much happier man after the match and naturally enthused about Rooney's goals especially the first.
"His awareness in knowing where the goalkeeper was amazing and then to execute it was superb," he told a news conference.
"My only worry was whether the bounce would take it over the bar, but it was a great goal.
"I thought his second goal was excellent too, the way he got into the box and lead the line today was second to none."
"The goal will take center-stage of course but overall our performance today was excellent, the disappointment was that we didn't score more.
"We are showing signs of doing better. We stepped up a gear from midweek, we made a lot of chances and we deserved to win it."
The result puts United within 11 points of fourth-placed Arsenal and, while qualifying for the Champions League may still be beyond them, they will face neighbors Manchester City in Tuesday's derby at Old Trafford in far better spirits.
(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris)