Wayne Rooney scores landmark goal as Manchester United finally win
MANCHESTER, England -- Three thoughts from Manchester United 2-1 Swansea, as Louis van Gaal's men won for the first time in nine matches in all competitions.
1. United win as Rooney chases records
Rare are the days when Manchester United win a game and two of their strikers score, but Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney combined to secure a nervy win over Swansea.
Rooney got United's second with a delightful back-heel after Swansea had drawn level. It was his 188th in the Premier League, moving him one ahead of Andy Cole and into second place behind Alan Shearer in the all-time scoring chart.
A superb, instinctive flick won this match and moved Rooney to 238 United goals, one ahead of Denis Law in the club's list of all-time leading scorers, just 11 behind Sir Bobby Charlton.
"Amazing -- and that at the age of 30," said Van Gaal afterward.
The win, the first one in nine matches in all competitions, arrived after an edgy and far from a vintage performance, but as the players left the field they did so to chants of: "Oh United, we love you."
United's form has been dire, and their two goals marked a first match since the 2-1 win over Watford in November they managed to net more than once.
They had not won a home match since Nov. 7 and hadn't scored at Old Trafford's Scoreboard End since September. The latter statistic still stands, but the win lifted the gloom and the team to fifth for the time being. It will help pick the team's confidence up off the floor.
They started with an attacking intent if not intensity, with three at the back and Ashley Young and Martial expected to attack along the wings. Just like they did in the 0-0 draw against Chelsea on Dec. 28, the hosts began brightly, but that petered out into another ponderous home performance.
The fans have refused to hound their manager at matches, and he appreciates the support, though there was an audible groan after 25 minutes when Rooney won the ball but passed it back, such were the lack of options.
A Juan Mata shot, two Rooney headers lacking power and another Mata effort four minutes before half-time were the brightest points of a largely insipid first half on a dull second day in 2016.
The second period was an improvement, with goals, a win and evidence of attacking play fans haven't seen enough of in this season so far. No supporters are getting carried away, but United held their nerve when they've been losing it too often.
For that they have a crucial second goal from Rooney to look back on. He endured a frustrating 2015 and United will now hope, with Premier League and club records to hunt down, the motivation is there to get back on the goal trail.
2. Ashley Young the star man
Old Trafford's giant stands came alive after United took the lead and a chant of "Ashley, Ashley, Young," came out of the Stretford End to the tune of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Baby Give It Up." The game's best player deserved it.
Young has started only 11 of United's 27 games so far this season and only Van Gaal appears to know why. The England international had been one of the manager's best players in 2014-15 but has become a peripheral figure this term. Surprisingly recalled four games ago, at home to Norwich by a manager who wanted more attacking intent, Young hardly inspired United. They'd lost two and drawn one of those games, but he came alive against Swansea.
The 30-year-old was the standout player on Saturday. At times that wasn't saying much in a lacklustre first half, but as United played with a three-man defence, Young and Martial were given wide roles and attempted to go past opponents.
Swansea afforded both space, though it was Young's crosses that proved more threatening. Such has been the scarcity of goals at Old Trafford, that even a shot was an improvement at the stadium that had seen only 13 in nine league games so far this season.
Young provided the cross for a powerful Martial header after 47 minutes. The opening goal brought relief and a break from the monotony, and while there were further frustrations, United were back in front by the time Young left the field after 78 minutes to an ovation from the Stretford End. Van Gaal said afterward Young had cramp.
3. Swansea denied as their goalkeeper goes close
Swansea, seemingly Van Gaal's nemesis, went to United seeking a fourth successive win over them. They had not won away since October and were the second-lowest scorers in the league, though they were unfortunate to lose narrowly against Manchester City before Christmas. They were just above the relegation zone at the start of play but had kept three successive clean sheets, and there is talk of interim coach Alan Curtis getting the job permanently.
With three of United's past four home games finishing 0-0 before this one, the forecast didn't suggest goals. Swansea were content to defend, take their time with throw-ins and goal kicks and break up United's attacks. Though like United, they also lost possession too readily. They wanted to frustrate and they did, but they needed to change after going behind after 47 minutes.
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Curtis introduced the lively Mo Barrow and his superb 69th minute cross for Gylfi Sigurdsson handed the away side their equaliser. The 2,000 travelling fans, who sung "Sacked in the morning!" at Van Gaal during a frustrating first half, were jubilant.
They roared for another goal and a fifth win against United in six games. Instead, they slipped to defeat. With United still nervy amid this desperate run of form, they even allowed Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski -- who had come up for a late corner -- a chance on goal. Van Gaal, his players and United's fans were incredibly grateful to see his effort just miss the target by the narrowest of margins.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.