Admittedly, it took a rather bizarre goal from Bafetimbi Gomis to not only spoil United’s day on the banks of the River Tawe, but to leave the Dutchman to face even further criticism.
In trying to duck Jonjo Shelvey’s 30-yard strike, 17 minutes from time, Gomis succeeded in diverting the ball over the helpless David de Gea in United’s goal. It was the perfect comeback from Garry Monk’s side who trailed in the 28th minute to Ander Herrera’s slick finish. Ki Sung-Yueng levelled matters, less than two minutes later and Shelvey, via the head of Gomis, settled the issue in the final quarter.
Van Gaal did his best to remain upbeat after his side had been beaten for the second time this season. However, when the dust settles on a rather shapeless, tepid performance at the Liberty Stadium, United will take stock. With Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham to play in their next seven games, a place in the top four is far from guaranteed.
What’s more, with Robin van Persie facing time away from the game due to the ankle injury suffered in the second half, on Saturday, Van Gaal might not be as confident in his predictions this week.
The manager spoke of his frustration after the game, and rightly so. However, it was not so much the missed opportunities and how United should have won the game, that the Dutchman should have been concentrating on. It was more the lack of genuine quality in the final third.
For long periods of each half, the visitors dominated the ball. Sadly, when they ventured into the ‘Red Zone’, they were toothless. Whatever Van Gaal wishes to think, his side barely had a shot on target. Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski barely had a save to make and Van Persie’s shot into the side netting, was their best chance after the interval.
Admittedly, the goal that gave the visitors the lead, after 28 minutes, was the end result of some wonderful movement and no little vision on the part of Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney and Angel di Maria. When the ball finally arrived at the feet of Ander Herrera, the 25-year-old Spaniard beat Fabianski at his far post.
Swansea took a minute and 56 seconds to equalise. The increasingly influential Shelvey picked out Ki with a teasing centre and the South Korean beat David de Gea from eight yards.
To his credit, Van Gaal swapped Shaw for Ashley Young, just before the hour mark, and duly saw his side take the game by the scruff. Still, such was their ineffectiveness around the Swansea box, that Van Persie’s misdirected shot, at the far post, was the closest they came.
Sensing their chance to strike, Swansea did exactly that, in the 73rd minute. Ki released Shelvey, in acres of space, and the former Liverpool midfielder took aim from 30 yards. Gomis ducked, in a bid to avoid being knocked out by Shelvey’s exocet, but watched in disbelief as the ball brushed his forehead and dipped over the helpless de Gea.
Van Gaal chose not to speak to the Monday newspaper journalists, but his claim that United were unfortunate not to win, surprised the Swansea captain Ashley Williams.
He said; “In our dressing room, we felt we deserved to win. I don’t know how they felt, that’s up to them. I counted that we had four chances to score before they scored. I don’t remember us being opened up too much, although we defended for a lot of the game.”
Williams refused to be drawn on United chances of making the top four, but said; “They’ve been finding themselves under the new manager and are playing a new system.”
It was the first time Swansea had secured a league double over United. Williams added; “When you finish playing, there are certain things you remember. I’m guessing that the two wins over United this season, will be one of them.”
Swansea manager Garry Monk was understandably delighted with the victory and admitted, after the game, that he had been forced to read the riot act to his side after the FA Cup defeat at Blackburn and the Premier League loss at West Brom.
He said: “For the last four or five weeks, we have been too inconsistent. I had a good chat with the players this week and made it very clear what the intentions are for the remaining games. The response was unbelievable and I’m delighted with that.
“Our aim is to get to 40 points as soon as possible. Forty seven is our best in the Premier League, so that’s the next target. I want to beat that.”
SWANSEA CITY (4-2-3-1) Fabianski (6); Naughton (6), Williams (7), Fernandez (7), Taylor (7); Ki (7), Cork (7); Shelvey (8) (Amat 90,5), Sigurdsson (7) (Montero 74,6); Gomis 6
MAN UTD (4-1-3-2) De Gea (6); McNair (5) (Valencia 45,6), Jones (6), Shaw (6) (Young 58, 6); Blind (6); Herrera (7), Fellaini (6), Di Maria (6) (Mata 79, 6); Van Persie 6, Rooney 7
Referee: N Swarbrick (Lancashire)