Hernandez shows newcomers how to survive at the top

SWANSEA CITY learned the harsh reality of Premier League football at the Liberty Stadium as Manchester United kept alive their hopes of retaining the coveted title.

Having conceded only once in their previous five home games this season, the Welshmen gifted United a third successive one-goal victory.

It was seldom pretty and at times, somewhat fortuitous. Still, with runaway leaders Manchester City having swept aside Newcastle United earlier in the day, Javier Hernandez’ neat finish, after a careless error from Angel Rangel, might turn out to be one of United’s most crucial goals of the season.

Other than that, they had precious few scoring chances against a Swansea side who threatened to take at least a point in a second half that saw Scott Sinclair, Neil Taylor and Danny Graham go close. Sadly, it was Rangel’s mistake, after 11 minutes, and Sinclair’s horror miss at the other end, 10 minutes later, that changed this David and Goliath contest.

Encouraged to play football the right way, and seemingly comfortable with the system, Rangel attempted to play his way out of trouble. It was the wrong choice. The Spaniard gifted Ryan Giggs the ball and in turn, Giggs set up Hernandez who clinically slipped the ball over Michel Vorm.

To their credit, Swansea continued to play with the kind of positive approach that has endeared them to so many in their first season in the Premier League.

They created one or two half-chances, most notably for Mark Gower and looked anything but second rate citizens. Unfortunately, when the golden chance came their way, Sinclair fluffed his lines. It was nothing short of personal heartbreak for the England Under-21 wing.

Michael Carrick’s slip allowed Wayne Routledge enough space to find Sinclair with an empty net in front of him. Sinclair pulled the trigger but inexplicably failed to make contact and United cleared their lines. It was a defining moment.

Rooney’s marauding performance in midfield and that of Giggs too, meant Swansea spent much of the opening quarter chasing shadows. Hernandez should have found Rooney with a cross shortly before half time, while Giggs might have done better from a free kick 25 yards out.

To their credit, Swansea continued to play in the only manner they know. Danny Graham ploughed a lone furrow up front but showed genuine desire to chase throughout and Gower was unlucky to miscue a volley from 20 yards.

If Swansea were a little miffed by their own lack of accuracy in the first half, the second was significantly improved. Brendan Rodgers introduced Joe Allen, at the expense of Routledge, and the diminutive Welshman caused immeasurable problems. United, much to the frustration of their travelling support, were pinned back inside their half for long periods, with Taylor forcing David de Gea in to a smart save and Garry Monk seeing his header deflected wide by Giggs.

The introduction of Fabio de Silva, after 51 minutes, followed a booking for Patrice Evra on Nathan Dyer. The tricky Dyer, who had been shackled well by Evra in the first half, showed one or two signs of his ability immediately after the restart and took an almighty whack from his marker in front of the dug-out. Referee Mike Dean had no doubt that the Frenchman deserved a booking. Moments later, Evra was withdrawn.

Rooney and Giggs continued to prompt in midfield but a lack of space meant the fluency with which United played in the first half had given way to a spell during which Swansea were dominat.

Leon Britton set up Graham for another chance, but the £3million striker waited too long to strike and Rio Ferdinand nipped in to clear.

As the game wore on, so Swansea began to run out of ideas. For honest endeavour there would have been no complaints from Rodgers. For quality in the final third, it was a different story. They had had their chances and those opportunities had passed them by. At the opposite end, Phil Jones struck an upright late on and Rooney’s audacious chip, landed on top of Vorm’s net.

That was just about it in terms of chances, although Swansea did have one further opportunity when United were caught napping in the Swansea half. Sinclair broke, but his delivery to Dyer was too heavy and De Gea collected and that was that.

United were happy to take a third successive victory, while Swansea can take some consolation from another swashbuckling performance that will surely serve them well when Aston Villa visit on Sunday. For United, it’s the small matter of a Champions League visit of Benfica tomorrow.

They will need to be better than this if their European dreams are to continue.

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