Wednesday 20 September 2017

Fergie retains hope but United need miracle after goal-fest fails to materialise

Manchester Utd 2 Swansea 0

Paul Scholes pauses for thought
Paul Scholes pauses for thought

Mark Ogden

They say it is the hope that kills you, but Manchester United appear ready to endure the lingering death of their title ambitions for another week, just in case a miracle awaits.

A routine victory at home to Swansea City ensured that United will face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light next Sunday knowing they can still claim a 20th domestic title if Manchester City fail to defeat relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad Stadium.

Whether anybody of a red persuasion actually believes that City, who have dropped just two points on home turf all season, will fail to take care of business against QPR remains to be seen, but the surreal atmosphere within Old Trafford as Swansea were beaten suggested that a flicker of hope, however unlikely, continues to burn at United.

Perhaps the United supporters, who chanted "Attack, Attack, Attack" inside the first minutes, had fallen into the trap set by City manager Roberto Mancini last month, when the Italian insisted that Alex Ferguson's team were favourites to win the Premier League because they would win their "easy" game against Swansea "10-0."

That was never likely to happen. Even if United had been able to parachute the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Denis Law into their team, Brendan Rodgers' players have already proved this season that they are nobody's pushovers.

Yet, hope of a remarkable final-day celebration remains alive thanks to first-half goals from Paul Scholes and Ashley Young.

But having seen his team throw away an eight-point lead in less than three weeks, Ferguson appears braced for the worst.

"We had to win and there was optimism from everyone that if we scored a lot of goals it could make a difference," Ferguson said. "But that was over-optimistic.

"I'm pleased we won the match and showed good appetite for it when our heads could have dropped.

"They're good lads, good professionals and we'll go to Sunderland to win. It's our duty and responsibility. You have to think there is hope."

United will need to defeat Sunderland and hope that QPR pull off a shock at the Etihad to avoid Ferguson suffering only his fifth trophyless season since 1990.

But their spluttering performances in recent weeks -- this win was only a marginal improvement -- suggest that a victory on Wearside is anything but a formality.

Dropping Nani, Ji-sung Park and Ryan Giggs from the team which failed so miserably to trouble City last Monday, Ferguson recalled Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Javier Hernandez to the starting line-up in an effort to inject the attacking intent which was absent against Mancini's team.

The tactic worked, raising the question why Ferguson chose to play so defensively at City, but United still had to wait until midway through the first half before troubling Swansea goalkeeper Michel Vorm.

Patrice Evra's 21st-minute shot was well saved by the Dutchman, before Wayne Rooney's attempt from the rebound was diverted behind for a corner.

The opening goal came seven minutes later, long after the battle-cry for a goal-glut had receded, when Scholes scored from six yards with a back-heeled flick from Michael Carrick's shot.

For a moment, it prompted a flurry of noise and more hope that an emphatic victory could be secured, but as Hernandez missed a succession of good chances and Young had a penalty appeal rejected following Angel Rangel's challenge, the belief evaporated.

So much so that when Young made it 2-0 four minutes before half-time, after Scholes and Rooney had seen efforts blocked, the half-hearted cheer in response to the goal hinted that the game was up.

Points in the bag, perhaps, but the bigger battle of winning the league, many sensed, was lost on the blue side of town last week.

Ferguson bemoaned Swansea "slowing the game down" in the second half as United ran out of ideas and Rooney, who produced his latest below-par performance, was booked for the first time this season for a foul on Leon Britton as frustrations boiled over for the home side. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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