United remain in close pursuit of neighbours Manchester City after registering a first-ever win at Swansea City.
This was the first competitive meeting between the two clubs in 28 years with the Reds never having beaten the Welsh side on their own patch in eight previous attempts. Brendan Rodgers’ side were intent on maintaining that record and indeed this season’s unbeaten run at the Liberty Stadium, but Javier Hernandez’s 11th-minute strike proved decisive as Sir Alex’s men, who were professional in their play, rather than prolific, overcame a spirited display from the Swans.
With Manchester City eight points clear at the top of the table at kick-off, Sir Alex knew victory was imperative and he sent out a strong team with that very much in mind. There were three changes to the side that beat Sunderland with David De Gea returning in goal, Michael Carrick starting his first league game of the season and Ryan Giggs back in action in his native Wales and featuring in his first match for five weeks after a spell in the treatment room. And it was the Welshman who ensured the Reds got off to the perfect start on 11 minutes.
Angel Rangel dithered on the ball at the back and his attempted pass was easily cut out by Giggs. The midfielder powered into the area before sliding a low cross into the path of Javier Hernandez who side-footed home from close range to keep up his impressive run of goals away from home.
Swansea, who had come out of the blocks with real intent, remained buoyant despite the early blow and went close to restoring parity on 22 minutes; indeed, Scott Sinclair will still be wondering how he didn’t get his name on the scoresheet. Just after Patrice Evra had seen a low drive well held by Michel Vorm, the Swans' lone front man Danny Graham shrugged off a challenge at the other end to put Wayne Routledge in. His cross cannoned off Carrick and into the path of Sinclair who, with the goal gaping and De Gea struggling to get back in position, completely missed the ball from eight yards out.
The Reds, in relative control thereafter, set about trying to build on the 1-0 advantage. After Giggs had flashed a free-kick just wide nine minutes from the break, Hernandez found himself clear down the right but he over-hit his cross towards the onrushing Rooney and the chance was gone.
It was the Swans who had the first sight of goal after the restart. Joe Allen, brought on to replace Routledge, rolled the ball out to Sinclair who sent a powerful left-foot drive goalwards, but it was well parried by De Gea. Gary Monk then miscued a free header from the resulting corner.
The Swans continued to battle but De Gea and co. held firm. At the other end, Hernandez was always a threat on the break, while Rooney was involved in virtually all of United’s good play. Indeed, the England striker tried his luck from long range on 70 minutes, but Vorm claimed well.
With only one goal in it, the Swans continued to probe. Sinclair escaped the attentions of Rooney down the left and picked out Graham in the box. His shot was well blocked by Carrick, while Ashley Williams saw his follow-up effort cleared by Ferdinand.
With time almost up, the Reds went close to doubling the lead on three occasions in quick succession. First, Rooney chipped the ball onto the roof of the net, and then Jones, on one of his now renowned bursts forward, saw his low drive from inside the area deflected against the far post by Vorm. Finally, Nani sent a curling effort just wide.
United held out for a fifth consecutive victory in all competitions and ensured the team across town are far from out of sight in the league.
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