FULL TIME: Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City
Bony blooters a hopeless free kick over the bar, and that's that! Old Trafford greets the victory with a hearty bellow. David Moyes - who has been an impressive and thoroughly gentlemanly figure under fire this week - doesn't bother with any histrionics, departing in a calm and measured style. You could forgive him for dancing around, though, if he'd so desired. His side's win was thoroughly deserved - United were brilliant in the second half, with Adnan Januzaj and Patrice Evra particularly good - but it was a curate's egg of a performance all the same. (They were dreadful in the first half.) Still, that second period will have given them soccer succour, stuff that's much needed ahead of next weekend's trip to the leaders Chelsea. United will only be six points behind Jose Mourinho's team if they win that one. You'll not be missing that, I'll be bound.
89 min: Swansea pass it around a bit, but not to any great effect.
86 min: Williams goes on a Beckenbaueresque rampage down the middle, and is nearly released down the left channel. Rafael needs to be on his guard to step in and clear.
85 min: Hernandez replaces Welbeck. While we're waiting for the game to restart, why not watch how it unfolded in picture form?
84 min: Vazquez springs clear of the United defence down the right! He really should get a shot away, but hesitates fatally and red shirts eventually swarm around him. What a chance gone begging there! Pozuelo tries to redeem the situation, but his shot is blocked by Vidic.
81 min: Davies is turned by Valencia just to the right of the Swansea box, and brings the man down. Januzaj goes for goal from the free kick, and is well wide of the mark.
80 min: Evra, who has been outstanding on the overlap down the left, makes way for Buttner.
78 min: But to be fair, United don't look like testing their own nerves by conceding. Or, more to the point, Swansea don't look like scoring. A corner down the left doesn't clear the first man. Then Bony gets his head a left-wing cross, ten yards out, but can't get any power on it. He wins a corner, but again it's a waste of time and energy.
76 min: Vazquez jigs at speed down the right. Corner. But all that happens is this: Januzaj clears and sends Rafael scampering away down the left in one fell swoop. United are two on one! He slips the ball right to Kagawa, who takes a touch inside Davies and must score! But his attempt to pass the ball past Tremmel and into the net is intercepted on the line by Britton, and Swansea hack clear. This should, without question, be 4-0. If United let a goal in now, expect the nerves to kick in.
74 min: With United rampant, Williams is forced to step in and concede a corner down the left. From the set piece, Kagawa is encouraged to shoot as he drifts in from the left, but drags a hopeless effort well wide. That's nothing to Bony's dig up the other end, which only just goes out for a corner by the right-hand flag. The home faithful are enjoying themselves.
72 min: Routledge connects with a deep right-wing cross, but can only blooter it into Rafael's tender zone. Swansea are trying their best to get back into this game, but they're struggling.
69 min: A bit of pressure for Swansea, and Amat has a free header from a Routledge cross, 12 yards out. He bangs the ball straight down into the turf, sending it ballooning up and into the grateful hands of De Gea.
68 min: United are playing like, well, like United. Where have you been all season? Welbeck bombs towards the area and isn't too far away with a long-range effort. All highly entertaining stuff. So here's Vaz Frigerio to bring the mood down:"All our rivals will be loving this. Just good enough to keep Moyes in a job; not good enough to win anything (or sign anyone) of note. Now the narrative will be about United being 'back on track' and 'going on a run' until we play someone good and get stuffed. Again." Only football fans can rationalise like this. Don't know about you, but it's why I love the sport so much.
67 min: As well as looking refreshed up front, United are less nervous at the back now. Bony challenges for a high cross in the area, with Vazquez alongside him, but De Gea steps out to claim with ill-disguised disdain.
65 min: Januzaj sashays down the left, then cuts into the box. He's got no intention of stopping. Eventually he shoots from a tight-ish angle, winning a corner. What a player this young man is! From the corner, Kagawa crosses from the left. The ball falls at the feet of Smalling, four yards out. He's got to score, but eschews one soccer point for three of the rugger variety. What a miss! You'll not see a more preposterous one all season.
64 min: Pozuelo is afforded a bit of time down the inside left. He launches a riser towards the top right, and it only just drifts wide of the post. De Gea probably had that covered, though it would have taken a fingertip round the post were it on target. A fine effort.
63 min: It really is the end of panto season: Shelvey is hooked for Vazquez.
62 min: The atmosphere in Old Trafford is bubbling now. United have been stunning since the restart. Each and every one of their players looks a couple of inches taller, passes are sticking. Swansea are all over the shop, and can hardly get a touch. "I know we have problems at the moment, but am I alone in thinking that the media's coverage has been a little OTT?" asks Daniel Thomas. "Yes, lots of our players seem average, but look at Aaron Ramsey - last season awful, this season awesome. I'm sure that if we keep the core of this team together for a few years they'll be a strong side. Great teams (Barca, Bayern recently) always have time together; not so great ones (Inter, Chelsea) are a bit more cobbled together. Knee-jerk (Savage) opinions are little more than twitter-baiting rubbish, and should be treated as such. Danny Welbeck, Ballon d'Or."
GOAL!!! Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City (Welbeck 59)
Rafael slips a pass down the inside-right channel for Valencia, who struggles to get the ball out from under his feet. But he does win a corner. Swansea clear, but give the ball away immediately. Have the two teams swapped shirts at half time? Januzaj whips a cross in from the right. It's headed clear weakly, but Evra, bowling in from the left, hits a shot towards the bottom right from outside the area. It's going wide, but Welbeck sticks out a leg to adroitly guide home into the bottom right. Old Trafford erupts for the second time. The third time if we include the Shelvey shank.
57 min: Panto season is over now, of course, but we still need panto villains. Step forward Jonjo Shelvey, who from a position down the inside-right channel, takes a touch inside, shapes to shoot into the top-left, and shanks a hilariously poor effort miles wide of goal. The crowd cheer that one almost as loudly as the goal.
55 min: The Januzaj-Evra combination down the left is ripping Swansea apart again and again. Evra's found in space twice in as many seconds (or so it seems). Both crosses are dismal, but you feel it's only a matter of time before another chance is carved out. Swansea can't keep going like this, they've barely had a touch since the restart.
53 min: United really have their tails up now! Kagawa advances towards the box, allowing Welbeck to drag Swansea's defenders out of position. He looks for the top corner from the edge of the area, but only finds the hoarding where WONDERFUEL GAS used to be emblazoned, back in the day.
52 min: Another brilliant dinked reverse pass by Januzaj, who releases Evra down the left. Evra is in acres. He slams a cross towards the far post, but neither Kagawa nor Fletcher can control, and the chance is gone.
50 min: Swansea finally arrive for the second half. A long ball down the inside left channel puts Smalling under pressure as Pozuelo buzzes around, but the defender clears calmly. "Isn't this United team just echoing the 2003-2006 cycle of United teams?" wonders Peter Ferry. "During that period United were full of deadwood and squad players and waiting on an up-and-coming winger to fulfil his potential. I don't see this as much of a crisis time at all. United will finish fourth and improve next year."
48 min: United are first to everything at the moment. There's a bite to their game which was almost totally missing from their limp first-half performance. It's almost as though David Moyes has borrowed the old man's hairdryer. "Fabio got a red for less than that Bony challenge," argues David Jerome. "A paranoid man would suggest all those years of 'pro United' refereeing has resulted in some 'protesting too much' refereeing."
GOAL!!! Manchester United 1-0 Swansea City (Valencia 46)
Kagawa slides a ball down the left to release Welbeck. United are held up, but they come again, Januzaj whipping a deep cross to the far post. Kagawa, having drifted to the right, heads back across goal, the ball dropping into space unoccupied by Swansea's defenders. Valencia arrives to sidefoot gratefully into the bottom left. Old Trafford erupts, in relief as much as anything!
And we're off again! United - playing towards the Stretford End now - will want to do a wee bit better in this second half. If that's not stating the bleeding obvious. They only had 34% of the ball in that opening period, which is an astonishing stat, really. "I was wondering if there are any Man U supporters who went to games in the late 50s/early 60s who went to watch games?" asks Fraser Thomas. "Were fans upset at the poor performances? Or was there enough post-Munich sympathy and goodwill giving Busby time to rebuild?" In lieu of someone who was actually there, how about this Joy of Six, which tells the tale of the Old Trafford faithful slow-handclapping their team on the opening day of the season? And to think modern fans get so much flak. The past may be a foreign country, but there's plenty of us with dual citizenship.
Half-time advertisement (like they did it back in 1961):
HALF TIME: Manchester United 0-0 Swansea City
The home fans send their heroes off to a chorus of boos. The PA announcer, perhaps with a glint in their eye, drops the needle on the Glory, Glory Man United single. Swansea, needless to say, will be the happier side at the halfway mark.
45 +1 min: Bony is booked for crumping Fletcher from behind. The challenge was both needless and fairly reckless. A red would have been harsh, but you've seen them given, and the striker was off the ground and didn't look 100% in control.
45 min: Pozuelo is afforded as much time as he likes in front of the United area. What on earth is the home defence up to? Smalling eventually responds, charging down Pozuelo's eventual shot. Corner out on the left. Nothing comes of it, but the away side are finishing this half strongly.
42 min: Pozuelo embarks on another rococo skitter downfield. He's been magnificent so far. The ball ends at the feet of Bony, on the edge of the area. He lays off for Shelvey, who shifts the ball to the left, then takes a shot that's immediately blocked by a United foot.
39 min: Swansea respond to that period of United pressure by Barcelonaing their way upfield, Posuelo instigating several tiki-taka triangles before the ball's swept out right to Shelvey, who drags a shot across the face of goal and out of play. If there had been a goal at the end of that move, you'd be watching re-runs of it from now until doomsday. Swansea, this sort of carry-on long ingrained, really are very pretty when in full flight. Clever Michael Laudrup / Roberto Martinez / Brendan Rodgers (delete according to dislikes and bias).
38 min: Rangel is booked for a late clatter on Kagawa down the left. He can have no complaints. From the resulting free kick, Evra heads over from close range.
36 min: What a miss by Welbeck! Januzaj releases Valencia down the right with a clever reverse clip. Valencia slides the ball forward, down the channel for Rafael, who rolls the ball inside to Welbeck, free on the penalty spot. He's got to score, surely, with only the keeper to beat, but he drags a first-time effort wide of the left-hand post. He does find his head with his hands, though, so that's something.
34 min: Carrick sprays a pass out wide to Evra on the left. The ball's quickly dispatched into the area. Valencia, level with the right-hand post, 12 yards out, brings the ball down and lays it back for Fletcher, who looks to send a heatseeker into the top right, but gets too much elevation on his effort. That's much better from United, with Swansea looking stretched in open play for the first time.
31 min: Kagawa is released down the left with a gorgeous scooped pass by Evra. He reaches the byline, then hesitates, then hangs around a bit more. His eventual attempt to find Welbeck in the middle is weak as you like, and dribbles into the hands of Tremmel.
29 min: Routledge and Shelvey cause a little bother in the United area down the inside left, but the latter's eventual cross is weak and sails into the arms of De Gea. Not long after, both players have a chance to shoot from distance as Swansea come at United again, but both hesitate and the chances are soon gone. The home support are again vocal in their displeasure, with United struggling again and again to clear their ranks and launch counter-attacks.
28 min: Fletcher launches a witless ball straight down the middle of the park to nobody. For the first time this afternoon, a wail of disbelief and irritation bounces around the walls of the grand old stadium. Evra tries to up United's game by showing in space down the left, receiving the ball, and fizzing a daisycutter towards the bottom right. It's a decent effort, on target from a tight angle and a fair way out, but Tremmel is always going to gather it. Still, it gives the crowd something better to critique.
25 min: Bony latches onto a weak headed clearance by Vidic, but his awful shot corkscrews miles wide to the right, barely having enough energy to cross the line for a goal kick.
23 min: Swansea are pressing United hard. To illustrate: Fletcher plays a clever sliderule pass down the inside-right channel to find Januzaj, but the young man's shuttled back all the way to the halfway line by Williams. It's a struggle at the moment.
21 min: Routledge, with the outside of his boot, sprays a gorgeous right-to-left pass out to Davies on the wing. Shelvey takes the corner to a chorus of pantomime boos. It's useless. United clear, but they're quickly back in possession. The home side have withdrawn into their shells a bit here, struggling to string passes together. Swansea look comfortable enough.
18 min: Swansea are knocking it around nicely enough at the moment. Shelvey - a very talented player indeed, if one prone to the occasional comedic slip - is dictating the play. At the moment, they're enjoying nearly 60% of the possession.
16 min: Canas is injured, having been clattered (fairly) by Carrick. He fell awkwardly, and is limping off. The centre-back Chico Flores comes on in his stead. Amat moves up into the Swansea midfield.
14 min: Shelvey is sitting deep, playmaking, and slides a pinpoint ball down the inside-right to release Routledge into the area. A decent touch and he's one on one with De Gea, but he's heavy, and can only scamper after the ball, hooking it back harmlessly from the byline. United hack clear. They don't look all that assured at the back. Jose Mourinho and Chelsea, United's opponents next week, will be licking their lips.
13 min: Both sets of supporters in really good voice, possibly as a result of afternoon session drinking, who knows. But this is a fine atmosphere.
11 min: ... clatters a delicious curler off the crossbar! That deserved to nestle into the top-left corner. Tremmel punches clear. The ball is loose down the United right. Routledge clatters into Valencia to concede a daft foul. Another free kick in another dangerous position, but this one is nothing to write home about, or indeed describe on a minute-by-minute report on the internet. United looking very dangerous all of a sudden, though.
10 min: Welbeck is upended on the edge of the D by Amat. Valencia latches onto the loose ball, cutting in from the right, and batters a shot straight at Tremmel, who parries clear. But the referee plays advantage, and blows for a free kick for the initial foul. This free kick is in an extremely dangerous position. Januzaj steps up, and ...
8 min: Evra bundles Pozuelo to the turf. Free kick to Swansea down the right. The ball's lumped into the area and easily cleared by Vidic. It's already very difficult to see this game ending goalless. Neither team looks too confident at the back.
6 min: Shelvey is here, there and everywhere at the moment. Right now he's fouling Rafael down the right. Free kick. The ball's swung into the mixer. Swansea make a pig's lug of clearing, and the ball falls to the feet of Vidic, eight yards out. But the big man's falling backwards, and shovels his shot over the bar. Half a chance goes begging.
5 min: Shelvey, in the centre of the United half, sprays a wonderful ball wide right for Rangel. If the right back had taken that on the run, he was clear on goal, but the ball flew under his feet. United breathe again, though Swansea are soon coming back at them, Shelvey taking a dig from distance. De Gea gathers with ease.
3 min: Welbeck shows a turn of pace down the left. His cross into the box is half-decent, which is 50 percent better than Valencia's attempt to take it under control. The ball flies away from danger.
2 min: United have started in the high-tempo style. Valencia, Rafael and Januzaj triangulate down the right. But then Januzaj plays a loose ball, allowing Britton to romp into the middle of the park. He's got options either side, but miscontrols. This is all a bit messy so far. Onwards and upwards.
And we're off! United stand around to a man with furrowed brow. Less concern than concentration, I'll be bound. Swansea get into a huddle. And United kick off, Swansea facing the Stretford End in this first half. Both teams get a feel of the ball in the first 60 seconds.
The teams are out! Manchester United are in their famous red, black and white, while Swansea City are in their time-honoured white garb. The referees - we always ignore these poor buggers - are in yellow and black. The grass: various shades of green, cut in the gingham style so beloved of United's kit designers. Another nod to Manchester's famous textile trade, or does the groundsman get sick if he tries to do concentric circles? We'll be off in a minute.
Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael Da Silva, Smalling, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Kagawa, Fletcher, Januzaj, Welbeck.
Subs: Giggs, Lindegaard, Hernandez, Cleverley, Buttner, Zaha, Lingard.
Swansea City: Tremmel, Rangel, Amat, Williams, Ben Davies, Britton, Canas, Pozuelo, Shelvey, Routledge, Bony.
Subs: Taylor, Chico, Cornell, Vazquez, Richards, Donnelly, Lucas.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside)
A bit more on this sequence from 1961-62: After losing those four games in a row, United arrested the sequence with a 2-2 home draw against Leicester City. They then followed it up with a 4-1 defeat at champions-elect Ipswich Town, a 4-1 home loss against Burnley, and a 5-1 humiliation at Everton. They were in the relegation zone after all that, and though the team rallied to finish 15th, United flirted with Second Division football again the following season.
Of course, as we know now, Busby turned it around to first win the FA Cup in 1963, then the league two seasons later. With even greater successes yet to come. Two seasons of serious relegation bother, though. You have to wonder whether, had impatient internet lynch mobs existed in 1962, Busby would have been in grave danger of being chased out of his job. The moral being? Give David Moyes a wee bit of time to sort things out. Either that, or: Love Busby? Hate Twitter!
Manchester United battered four goals past Swansea City on the opening day of the season, two for Robin van Persie, another couple for Danny Welbeck. Seems quite a long time ago now, doesn't it? Also a long time ago: 4 November 1961, the day Manchester United last lost a fourth match in a row, a 3-1 reverse at Sheffield Wednesday finishing off a sequence that began with a 2-0 home defeat by Birmingham City, then saw them spanked 5-1 at Arsenal and 3-0 at home by Bolton Wanderers.
Well, over half a century down the line, Manchester United are staring down the barrel of a four-game losing streak again, after home defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Swansea City, and a loss at Sunderland. These aren't the best of times. But United's beleaguered players should look on the bright side. They may have been dismal in their FA Cup defeat against today's Premier League opponents last weekend, but it's not often teams get a chance to right wrongs immediately. And surely David Moyes' embarrassed side - who were, after all, threatening to click into gear towards the end of 2013 - can't be as toothless against the Swans again.
Or can they? "There is no doubt that this fear factor that United have had at Old Trafford is slowly disappearing," opines Swansea assistant boss Morten Wieghorst. "Let us see if we can use that now we have a good win there in our heads." Words which, come half seven tonight, will either look very wise if Wilfried Bony is on form again, or very foolhardy if Welbeck turns the clock back to August 17.
Kick off: It surely will if United manage to lose this one. The game begins at 5.30pm.