Manchester United relying on favours as City have 'two hands on prize'
Manchester United 2 Swansea City 0
This is the afternoon which, in recent years, has generally involved the manager seizing the microphone and indulging in one of his silly jigs and a few years ago had Cristiano Ronaldo interviewing Anderson in the dressing room for the cameras, before he climbed into a Bentley and drove out of this stadium for the last time. Yesterday, Sir Alex Ferguson had to haul Antonio Valencia back from his walk to the dressing room and there was certainly no conviction in his voice when he told those lingering supporters to prepare for "the celebration of our lives" at Sunderland next Sunday.
The really significant words came in front of the cameras minutes later, however, when Ferguson employed the last strategy at his disposal: the exertion of not-so-subtle pressure on Mark Hughes, the manager in whose hands United's fragile hopes of a 20th title now rest when QPR visit Manchester City on the final day. His wish that "Sparky were playing" in that game and his distaste for the way Hughes was sacked in 2009 may be viewed with a certain amount of amusement by the Welshman, a wise and intelligent man who knows the working of Ferguson's mind as well as any. What an extraordinary last twist this could be – Hughes, the man first entrusted with the keys by City's Abu Dhabi owners, potentially denying them now.
Hughes will certainly remember that Ferguson was on the telephone to him when Khaldoon al-Mubarak sacked him. Neither will he have forgotten the Glaswegian's barbs, which his cool equanimity always made him equal to. "Sir Alex is sick and tired of people sticking a microphone under his nose and asking him about us rather than United," Hughes said when the noisy neighbours were seriously fiddling with the volume dial. "I can understand why he gets a little bit irritated about it, which is quite amusing from my point of view."
But City do have "probably two" hands on the title, as Ferguson put it. Paul Scholes' opening goal was his fourth since his return to football against City in the depths of winter and at any other time him diverting Michael Carrick's shot in so expertly would have a cause of a bear hug, a jig or – since it was Scholes, a little hand slapping. There was none of it. Scholes just trundled away, head down, across the pitch where, in 19 years of football, the notion of City being Manchester's predominant side has been an alien concept to him. His team-mates summoned little more enthusiasm. The crushing disappointment of what they had seen unfolding in the players' lounge was never more obvious than at that moment.
When he took the rebound from Wayne Rooney's shot and curled in a second goal within 13 minutes, Ashley Young ripped the ball back from the net and raced to the centre circle with it, as if a 10-0 win might actually be achievable. But there was also evidence of one of the critical differences between this United side and the one which clinched a 19th title a year ago. Back then, 20-goal Javier Hernandez was a predatory force to be feared in the penalty area. In this 12-goal campaign, some of those half-chances he once made whole have come to nothing: yesterday, there was poor control on a ball Rooney slid into his path and two headers lifted over Michel Vorm's bar.
United's international programme manager was on the pitch at half-time. "We've been in Abu Dhabu for two years now," he said, with no hint of irony. Antonio Valencia and Young revealed in their performances that United are not trailing the neighbours in every way. Valencia, a strong contender for the club's player of the year award a week tonight, was outstanding again, perhaps to the torment of his manager. It is the decision to drop Valencia in place of a dismal Luis Nani which has most cut Ferguson since last Monday's derby.
If his players made better use of Valencia's supply work, Ferguson might just have had reasons to ruminate on the last time the title was settled on goals (Leeds: 1964-65). Nathan Dyer got a crucial touch when Rooney ferried the Ecuadorean's ball across the box towards the lurking Young. Rooney screwed a shot wide of Vorm's right-hand post after Carrick clipped another Valencia ball, first time, into his path. And when all was lost, Dimitar Berbatov arrived for what will be his last 15 minutes of football here. He is the player who once mesmerised Ferguson and whose signature, in the teeth of Hughes' attempts at gazumping on the day the current owners moved in across the City, suggested that red domination would be hard to dismantle. Four years on, in the year Sheikh Mansour earmarked for the championship, it all but has been.
Man Utd: DE GEA 6/10; JONES 6; SMALLING 6; FERDINAND 7; EVRA 6; VALENCIA 8; CARRICK 7; SCHOLES 6; YOUNG 7; HERNANDEZ 6; ROONEY 6
Swansea: VORM 7; TAYLOR 6; WILLIAMS 6; CAULKER 6; RANGEL 5; SINCLAIR 6; ALLEN 6; SIGURDSSON 7; GOWER 6; DYER 7; GRAHAM 6
Scorers. Scholes 28, Young 41
Substitutes: Manchester United Cleverley 6 (Scholes, 68), Berbatov (Rooney, 78), Rafael (Ferdinand, 87). Swansea City Britton 6 (Gower, h-t), Moore (Dyer, 71), Tate (Caulker, 90).
Booked: Manchester United Rooney.
Man of the match Valencia. Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Man United 56% Swansea 44%.
Attempts on target: Man United 18 Swansea 9.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside). Attendance 75,496.
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