Saturday 22 July 2017

United dice with a draw but Hernandez helps to maintain winning habit

Swansea 0, Manchester Utd 1, James Corrigan

Most of the Manchester United cliches aren't original. Take the one about Alex Ferguson's men winning when not at their best. Been there, done it, won the title. Over and over. Even that tale's beard has a beard.

Of course, the danger with any old truth is that it can mask the cracks. And there were cracks at the Liberty; just as there were in the two Premier League one-nillers which immediately preceded this latest dicing with a draw and which succeeded that 6-1 humiliation at home to Manchester City.

On another day, against another team, Swansea would have secured at least a point. But as Brendan Rodgers was quick to note, United aren't just another team. Which to his mind is why they will hound their neighbours to the very finale of any championship race.

"Those guys are genuine winners -- it's their mentality to keep going until the end," said Rodgers, after presiding over his first home defeat in the Premier League. "They know what it takes and will just keep chipping away. They knew that this was an important game for them, a difficult game for them, but they have come out the other side with a result. United will continue to chase. City have come to the party but United will always be there."

Always there, like a greying Welshman who doesn't know when to stop. Rodgers praised Ryan Giggs, who turns 38 next week, for the clinical way he leapt on Angel Rangel's howler to set up Javier Hernandez's goal and, as everyone does, marvelled at his longevity. For Ferguson, however, it was the performance of Michael Carrick which was most worthy of praise.

"I thought he did really well, it was a big performance from him," he said. "To get Michael back to that form and have the likes of Ryan available gives us good options. We also brought on Fabio (Da Silva), (Darren) Fletcher and (Antonio) Valencia which shows you the strength of the squad... I can make changes with confidence and that's very important at this stage."

This particular stage of the season could have proved defining. United kicked off the Saturday evening fixture eight points behind City against a team whose cultured passing game is in the habit of capitalising on over-expectancy. "Swansea play off the ball and keep it for long spells," said Carrick. "We knew that before, so it was just a case of staying patient. It's about winning games and it's a good sign that we can win games like that. We haven't been at our best but there'll be a point in the season when everything will come easily."

It would have been interesting to see how easily it would have come if Scott Sinclair had converted the simplest of opportunities to equalise. But he didn't, and so Ferguson was able to wax lyrical about a defence which was under a barrage a little under a month ago.

So, why aren't they scoring more? "That's not a concern," said Carrick. "We'll score some more goals because of the talent in our team. At this time it's about grafting, sticking together and showing a lot of character."

For their part, Swansea knew what was heading in their direction, so the experts duly launched accusations of the home side being naive in not mixing the pragmatic with the poetic.

"The players are prepared for that (criticism)," said Rodgers. "They have been well schooled in that, that's part of the culture in the English league. Our philosophy doesn't change. We will win more games than we lose if we play like that. But I don't like being the heroic loser." (© Independent News Service)

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