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Jan 062014

Manchester United 1-2 Swansea City
ALeqM5jvmkA2R0qXjDMYQhE4adPAJF4bOg TRa to the F.A. Cup!Anyone who’s seen the film Bridge on the River Kwai understands. And I have it on very good authority that David Lean’s film masterpiece on the absurdity of war is David Moyes’ favorite. Like the stubborn, class-bound POW Colonel Nicholson, dragged away from his suffering in ‘the box’ by the vicious Japanese camp commandant, Colonel Saito, in order to get his prisoners to become obedient workers, David Moyes will do it his way. After yet another disappointing performance resulted in a 1-2 defeat–Our fourth defeat over the last six games home at Old Trafford–he pushed out that stiff-upper-lip and told us yet another Pictish fib.

“We played quite well at times, got near the edge of the box quite regular, but didn’t make an opportunity to score the goal,” he said while avoiding all eye-contact.”I thought for long periods we had good control of the game. We were a bit unlucky to lose. We had some opportunities, not enough, and we were down to 10 men.”

United started with six changes from the 2-1 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Lacking the fire offered up by the presence of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Phil Jones and captain Nemanja Vidic, Moyes could conjure up no successful alternatives. With Javíer Hernandez left alone to look for crumbs up front and the consistently gutless, mediocrity that is Tom Cleverley left to float around central midfield doing nothing in particular, striker Danny Welbeck took it upon himself to be the link-up man as Rooney has been for most of the season. Having rested Carrick, who underwent a harrowing time against Spurs in his return to the first-team since injury, Moyes clearly did expect more from Cleverley and Kagawa in midfield but received very little in return for his good faith.

Throughout proceedings, especially later on, the crowd chanted “Attack! Attack! Attack!” The problem is that, although United can still dominate for short periods, they own little desire and no cutting edge whatsoever. Similar, actually, to the Swansea City team they played. As with the 2-1 defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on New Year’s Day, Moyes’s side heard the final whistle while they were in the midst of laying siege to City’s goal. Too little. Too late. Unfortunately, their tactics have become so predictable and dull that defending against them is as simple as man-marking relentlessly and fouling at the edge of the box with the knowledge that none of United’s players can take a quality free kick.

Chicharito Hernandez in particular missed a handful of quality chances. Early on, he fluffed United’s first opportunity when a faulty back-pass from Routledge found him alone in his own half. Having done all the hard work and sprinted 60 yards, the Mexican striker had plenty of time to pick his spot, but his shot was weak and easily blocked by Swansea’s right-back Dwight Tiendalli. Later, Hernández had a far easier opportunity when the ball reached him from a toe-poke off Danny Welbeck close to the Swansea goal, but he scuffed the shot wide off his laces. As with Danny Welbeck, the desire, energy and graft was all there, unfortunately the kind of service they needed was not.

Seconds on, Hernández and his team-mates really regretted their error as Bony tapped the ball back to Alejandro Pozuelo. His first-time pass dissected United’s midfield like a sharp shiny macheté finding Routledge, who stiffed a static Cleverley, moved easily past an an exposed Chris Smalling, and casually lobbed the ball into the net over an advancing Anders Lindegaard to take the lead in the 12th minute.

The lead only lasted four minutes, though, as Hernandez finally located his goal-scoring touch with a nicely placed finish from close range after a superb curved cross from Alex Büttner. One couldn’t help thinking that, although a high percentage of Büttner’s crosses, passes and shots narrowly missed their mark, he can only improve if he gets picked more often. There’s an old cliché about nothing working if the center does not hold; but, if there is no center whatsoever, not even a soft one, what then?

All the way until half-time, Moyes’s side continued to create more start-up opportunities, coming close through Valencia and Büttner, yet Swansea played far superior, more deliberate football as they remained unchallenged in midfield, building up careful attacks from behind the raw physical presence of Bony.

Then, suddenly, in the 76th minute, United were shockingly reduced to ten men as, first, the visibly aged Rio Ferdinand, making his first appearance for a month, limped off the field after two hard encounters in succession with Bony and Routledge. Then, his replacement, Fabio Da Silva lasted only four minutes before receiving a straight red card for a studs-high late challenge on José Cañas.

Fortunate or not, United hung in there and the stadium was quiet enough that everybody could hear Moyes repeatedly screaming for his jaded team to “wake up!” It took until the 90th minute for the still speedy Wayne Routledge to fly past a tired Darren Fletcher down the left and flick a high ball up off his laces that the mighty unmarked Bony headed powerfully past a stranded Anders Lindegaard for Swansea’s deserved winner.

With Messrs. Moyes, Woodward and the United hierarchy announcing a zero-sum January transfer window what happens next in the Glazer era seems woeful to contemplate. The player I felt most sorry for was Fabio Da Silva, whose horribly late tackle will surely place him on the lowest line of our manager’s shit list, which is a pity because some lucky club will doubtless pick him up for next to nothing and he can observe the Moyes project enter its next sad phase at a distance. Maybe his tackle would have been better timed if Moyes had played him more previously. I doubt that we’ll ever know now.

Ivor Irwin

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