United fail to restore six-point lead after Swansea's spirited display
Swansea 1 Manchester U 1:Manchester United were unable to restore their six-point lead at the top of the table as they were stymied by Swansea’s splendidly spirited resistance and held to a first draw of the season.
United scored early, through Patrice Evra, but Michu equalised with his 13th goal of the season and the Welsh team defended magnificently in the second half to emerge with a deserved point from a combative, thoroughly entertaining joust.
Draws rarely get much credit when it comes to discussing the matches of the season but this one merits consideration when such plaudits are tossed around. For Swansea, after successive defeats, this was the acid test not just of their mettle but also for their admirable passing game. They passed with flying colours.
United had Nemanja Vidic back in their starting line-up for the first time in nearly a year, fully restored at last after a knee injury. His old partner in central defence, Rio Ferdinand, was rested in preparation for the hectic holiday programme, so Jonny Evans played alongside Vidic with another centre-half, Phil Jones, at right-back.
Swansea needed all the quality they could muster and recalled the coveted Michel Vorm in goal after two months out injured. They also beefed up their midfield by drafting in Kemy Agustien to augment the ball-winning department – a role he played to perfection.
United went ahead when Vorm saved a shot from Ashley Young at the expense of a corner. Robin van Persie took the kick on the right and Evra, six yards out, got the better of Ben Davies in heading home his third goal of the season.
Swansea responded well to adversity and were rewarded for their enterprise after 29 minutes when David de Gea failed to hold a shot from Jonathan de Guzman and Michu was left with no more than a tap-in.
They might have gone ahead before the interval but a lovely interchange between Leon Britton and Wayne Routledge came to nothing for the want of a decent finish from the winger. United, too, had one more chance before the end of the first half, Vorm making a notable save from Wayne Rooney’s volley from 12 yards.
There was a seasonal, pantomime moment when the referee was so intent on booking Dwight Tiendalli that he was oblivious to De Guzman’s presence and trod heavily on his feet, sending the Dutchman to the deck. He was withdrawn a few minutes later.
United sent on an extra striker, Javier Hernandez, in pursuit of maximum points and Van Persie clipped the crossbar with a reflex shot, then with the aid of a deflection caught Vorm wrong-footed and happy to claw the ball away one-handed. The force was with United now, Swansea defending in all-hands-to-the-pumps mode.
Tempers boiled over in the 75th minute when, with Van Persie helpless on the ground, Williams belted the ball into the back of his head from point-blank range, provoking a reaction from the Dutchman that sparked an unsightly melee. Both principals were booked but for Alex Ferguson to claim that Van Persie “could have been killed” and that Williams should be suspended was ludicrously over the top.
Michael Laudrup was as keen as Ferguson to claim all three points and sent on two strikers, Luke Moore and Itay Shechter, in search of the winning goal. This, though, is the Swans’ Achilles heel. Neither player is good enough at this level and Michu prefers to play off the main striker rather than as the leader of the line.
United flurried towards the end and on three occasions they came tantalisingly close to scoring the decisive goal.