As Swansea City sign off on their Premier League travels, Abi Davies reflects on what could have been nearly a decade earlier.
On the 3rd May 2003, Swansea City faced Hull in order to determine whether they would retain their Football League status. Over nine and a half thousand fans poured into The Vetch Field to watch The Swans try to avoid the unthinkable, knowing that anything other than victory would see the side drop out of the Football League and into the conference. The Welsh side won the game 4-2 with James Thomas bagging a hat-trick which consisted of 2 penalties and a sublime chip over the keeper.
On Sunday, nine years on from the Hull fixture, Swansea City travelled to Old Trafford in order to play a pivotal role in concluding the destiny of the Premier League title, with their top flight status for the 2012-13 campaign secure.
Manchester United’s home form has been far from that which they have shown on the road this season, meaning Swansea had a realistic chance of denying Alex Ferguson’s side 3 points and returning from Old Trafford with more than their pride in tact.
Few would have predicted that with two fixtures of their maiden Premier League campaign remaining, Swansea would be 10 points off the relegation zone. Having taken the league by storm, Brendan Rodgers side now find themselves in a mid table league position highly reflective of their performances.
With Manchester City beating Newcastle in the 1.30 kick off, United knew that they had to record 3 points to keep alive their chances of retaining the title. Swansea, bolstered by the return to fitness of Angel Rangel, as expected reverted back to a more traditional 4-5-1 formation for Sunday’s fixture, having experimented with three at the back during last weekends 4-4 draw at home to Wolves .
Rangel was instantly restored to the Swans back line along with left back Neil Taylor, whilst Mark Gower started in place of Leon Britton who was only fit enough for a place amongst the substitutes following the knee injury he sustained last week.
Alex Ferguson made three changes to the side that was condemned to defeat in last Monday’s Manchester derby as Ashley Young, Hernandez and Valencia were restored to the starting line up.
During a scrappy opening encounter, in which neither side really established the upper hand, Joe Allen stood out for the Welsh side, closing down avenues and applying optimum pressure on the Untied players. However this was to little avail with few other Swansea players showing the same tenacity.
Swansea City began to settle and showed glimpses of their capabilities but ultimately payed the price for playing an uncharacteristic amount of misplaced passes, conceding possession far too frequently as Manchester United broke the deadlock with almost half an hour played. Phil Jones did well to get the better of Neil Taylor out wide before pulling the ball back for Carrick who’s shot into a congested penalty area was helped on with a neat flick from Scholes, changing the direction of the ball, deceiving Michel Vorm and opening the scoring for a united side looking to close the goal margin their local rivals hold over them.
Hernandez came close to doubling the home sides advantage soon after, however couldn’t direct his header on target. United squandered a host of other opportunities in the first half as they frustratedly looked to extend their lead.
The reigning Champions did finally add to their goal tally with four minutes of the first half remaining when Ashley Young pounced on a loose ball following Wayne Rooney’s initial shot.
Swansea spent large spells of the first half sitting too deep, inviting relentless United pressure and were inevitably punished for the amount of time and space they allowed the home side, going in at the interval trailing 2-0.
Swansea City, backed by a phenomenal away support, who remained louder than their counterparts for the duration, tried to ignite a resurgence after the break. A hugely credible endeavour and bounds of spirit saw a large momentum switch, seemingly triggered by the introduction of holding midfielder Leon Britton. Instantly restoring shape to the Swansea midfield, Britton showed no signs of injury, as he made numerous crucial interceptions and changed the whole complexion of the game. A second half in vast contrast to the first saw Swansea on the front foot, with the home side rattled.
Swansea surged forward with far greater urgency and a vastly improved tempo. The Welsh side’s defence appeared more comfortable with Britton offering assurance to the back line, commanding the holding midfield role to mass effect.
Manchester United still aired a threat and showcased the class they poses by creating a horde of chances. Coming agonisingly close to adding a third when Valencia broke with pace before picking out a great run from Rooney into the box, who tried to play the ball across the face of goal however Dyer demonstrated his defensive credentials in order to intercept.
Swansea almost halved the deficit 15 minutes after the restart when Nathan Dyer provided a direct ball through the centre for Joe Allen, the midfielder had time to compose himself before unleashing a shot, deflecting off Danny Graham and forcing De Gae into an impressive save.
The Spanish keeper also made a great full stretched save 5 minutes later to deny a Gylfi Sigurdsson free kick which seemed destined for the back of the net. The contrast of performances in the two halves emphasised Leon Britton’s importance to the side as Swansea controlled large spells of the second period, however could not convert any of their opportunities.
Alan Tate was sentimentally introduced with moments of the match remaining. A great touch from Brendan Rodgers to allow the Swansea defender an appearance against the club he had captained at both youth and reserve level. Despite an inspired second 45 from Swansea, Manchester United showed the strength to prevail and in doing so, take the title race to the final day of the season