Manchester - Wayne Rooney eased the pressure on Louis van Gaal as the Manchester
United captain's superb back-heeled strike secured a hard-fought 2-1 win
over Swansea City on Saturday.
Rooney's 77th-minute moment of magic took him ahead of Denis Law to
become the second-highest goalscorer in United's history and he is now
also the second-highest scorer in the Premier League era with 188 goals.
But even more significantly the England forward's first league goal
since October gave United their first win in nine matches and moved them
up to fifth place.
It was a badly needed three points for United manager van Gaal, who
had been forced to deny he was considering quitting over Christmas.
Four defeats and two draws in December had contributed to a barren
run which had seen United go out of the Champions League and slip out of
the Premier League's top four during the club's worst run since 1990.
They could ill-afford another setback and Anthony Martial headed
United in front as they scored only their 11th goal in 15 games.
United's goal and points tally had been their lowest ever in the
first half of a Premier League season and when Gylfi Sigurdsson headed
Swansea level with 20 minutes to go another winless afternoon
But van Gaal's men managed to find the route to goal once more thanks
to Rooney's third league goal of the season as relief flooded around
As they had done against Chelsea in their previous home
stalemate, United tried to show more attacking intent from the start
with van Gaal employing a three-man defence and Ashley Young and Anthony
Martial as wing-backs in a bid to set up a first home win since
Young helped provided an attacking threat but with only one
out-and-out striker in Rooney, United still found genuine chances hard
to come by before half-time.
Morgan Schneiderlin made a rare foray forward inside the first minute
to get in a shot which was blocked by Federico Fernandez, but it was
another 20 minutes before United had another sight of goal as Rooney
fired into the side-netting.
Having kept the home side at bay, Swansea winger Wayne Routledge
tested David de Gea with a volley and frustration began to grow around
But two minutes into the second half United finally went in front to change the context of the afternoon.
Again Young was involved in a telling capacity as his cross was
perfectly delivered for Martial, who had drifted into a more central
position, to score with a powerful downward header from eight yards
which bounced up and past Lukasz Fabianski to give the young Frenchman
his eighth goal of the season.
With nothing to lose, Swansea began to impose themselves.
Andre Ayew's header against a post from Sigurdsson's cross raised the
anxiety levels and with 20 minutes to go United were pegged back.
Substitute Modou Barrow gave Swansea an extra cutting edge and, from
his cross, Sigurdsson glanced home the equaliser with a header which
looped beyond David de Gea.
Suddenly United were back to square one but just when they needed him Rooney delivered.
When Martial beat Angel Rangel and drove the ball low across the
six-yard box, Rooney flicked the ball home with the inside of his foot
to claim one of the more important goals of his long United career.
United still had 12 minutes and four of stoppage time to hold out, but
with de Gea making a fine save from Ashley Williams and goalkeeper
Fabianski coming up from a corner to head just wide with the final touch
of the match, van Gaal was at last able to celebrate a win.