Wednesday 25 April 2018

Bony strike for Swansea leaves Moyes at crisis point

Manchester Utd 1 Swansea City 2

Manchester United's Javier Hernandez (left) and Danny Welbeck (right) stand dejected after Swansea City score a late winner
Manchester United's Javier Hernandez (left) and Danny Welbeck (right) stand dejected after Swansea City score a late winner
Swansea City's Wilfried Bony strikes the winner

Mark Ogden at Old Trafford

The last time Swansea City played at Old Trafford, they watched Manchester United lift the Premier League trophy.

Eight months on, Michael Laudrup's team departed with the walls crumbling and an empire in full-blown crisis.

Languishing in seventh position in the Premier League and now out of the FA Cup at the third-round stage for only the third time in 30 years, if this is not crisis time at Manchester United, David Moyes will not want to discover what it really looks like.

Even Wilf McGuinness, the tormented soul who succeeded Matt Busby as United manager before losing his job within 18 months, managed to avoid losing at the first hurdle of the FA Cup, but Moyes has now suffered the ignominy that Alex Ferguson endured just once in 27 years by falling at this entry stage of the competition.

BAPTISM

Moyes has had a torturous baptism to life at United, but with Wilfried Bony scoring twice to secure Swansea's first-ever Old Trafford victory, he will wake this morning at his lowest ebb.

Another defeat at Sunderland tomorrow night, in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final, does not bear thinking about for the Scot.

United, reduced to 10 men on 80 minutes following the dismissal of substitute Fabio da Silva for a crude challenge on Jose Canas, have now lost four of their past six games at Old Trafford and face an uphill battle to qualify for the Champions League.

These are grim times at United. The only saving grace for Moyes was that his team were not booed off at the end of a dismal game, but that would be being grateful for small mercies.

With injuries biting deep into his squad, Moyes had little option but to turn to a raft of fringe players in his starting line-up.

Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Phil Jones and Ashley Young were unavailable, while the likes of Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic and David de Gea were rested ahead of tomorrow's trip to Wearside.

Some would argue that Moyes has run out of games in which he can rest and rotate and, with so many players injured, trusting those he has otherwise ignored this season would seem a risky strategy.

United's starting XI had registered just 122 starts between them this season, with Antonio Valencia accounting for 19 of those.

So, Swansea, defeated by a full-strength United on the opening day of the season at the Liberty Stadium, would undoubtedly have been lifted when seeing a teamsheet containing players such as Anders Lindegaard, Alexander Buttner and a fading Rio Ferdinand on the opposing side.

United's stuttering home form would also have given Laudrup's players the confidence that they could become only the fourth team since World War II -- Hull (1952), Spurs (1980) and Leeds (2010) being the others -- to emerge victorious from Old Trafford in an FA Cup third-round tie.

The funereal atmosphere inside the stadium is doing little to help Moyes' team, however, and after a brief flurry of noise during the opening five minutes, when Javier Hernandez saw a goalbound shot blocked by Dwight Tiendalli, United became as uninspiring as the supporters who would usually offer their vocal backing.

Swansea sensed the anxiety on the pitch and in the stands and their passing game, with Jonjo Shelvey an impressive hub, pushed United onto the back foot before Wayne Routledge opened the scoring on 13 minutes.

It was a simple move. Alejandro Pozuelo received the ball from Bony just outside the centre circle. Pozuelo was left free to pick out Routledge, played onside by Chris Smalling, with a precise 30-yard pass and the former Crystal Palace winger calmly lobbed the exposed Lindegaard to put the visitors ahead.

As the television cameras panned to Moyes, the Scot's blank expression betrayed a man who had inherited a fortune, only to find a worthless lottery ticket in the bank vault. It would be heartless not to feel some sympathy for him.

Trailing at home again, Moyes must have looked at the players on the pitch and those on the substitutes' bench and wondered how his team were going retrieve the situation.

But just as Old Trafford began to vent its agitation, Hernandez quelled the disharmony by scoring his first goal in 10 games to haul United level within three minutes of Routledge's opener.

The Mexican forward has struggled to convince Moyes of his merits this season, but he came to his manager's aid by guiding Buttner's excellent cross past goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel with a left-foot volley from six yards.

Hernandez is a player who feeds off such deliveries, but they have been few and far between this term and United's pedestrian approach play continued to frustrate after the equaliser.

Swansea appeared content to sit and expose the lack of pace in United's back four on the counter-attack, but as the Welshman retreated, the home side were bereft of attacking ideas.

Shinji Kagawa was largely invisible and the Japanese midfielder did little to suggest Moyes has been wrong to overlook him so regularly this season.

Buttner is another who has been little more than a bench-warmer this season, but the much-maligned Dutch full-back produced what appeared to be a match-saving challenge on Bony to deny the Swansea forward a clear strike on goal after 79 minutes. Moments later, however, the lift from that intervention was negated by Fabio's dismissal for his reckless challenge on Canas.

It left United playing the final 10 minutes with 10 men, hanging on like a lower league minnow against a higher-ranked opponent.

The fact they failed to do even that sums up just how far United have fallen since Ferguson vacated the scene. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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