David Moyes’s miserable time at Old Trafford reached a new nadir as Manchester United were knocked out of the FA Cup on Sunday by a last minute Wilfried Bony goal that handed Swansea a 2-1 victory in the third round. Having lost four games already at home in the Premier League this season and on the back of the latest of them, against Tottenham on New Year’s Day, United’s struggles on their own turf continued to pile further pressure on their increasingly beleaguered manager.
Things had gotten off to a far from ideal start for Moyes with Wayne Routledge putting Swansea in front after just 12 minutes. United quickly responded with Javier Hernandez finishing off Alex Buttner’s fine cross but they created precious few openings to try and get a winning goal. While Swansea had shown little ambition to get a second goal themselves, a wild, high tackle from Fabio with 10 minutes remaining changed the face of the match. Suddenly Swansea sensed a golden opportunity to seal the tie at the first time of asking. With the pressure mounting, United’s defense was caught crudely exposed for Bony to head in from close range.
Missing the one man who has elevated them above absolute mediocrity this season, Wayne Rooney, United had no way to respond and, indeed, Bony came close to getting another in injury time. One could hardly criticize the boos from the Old Trafford crowd at the final whistle, with the fan’s thus far admirable patience now perhaps beginning to wane for Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor.
Moyes can point to the absence of Rooney and Van Persie as mitigating factors, but in truth he must also surely take much of the blame for United’s key duo being on the sidelines. Both were forced to play the full 90 minutes on their return from injury and both were immediate recurrences. Swansea, too, were not at full strength, having made five changes following the busy festive schedule, not to mention missing their talisman, Michu, through injury.
Having made the semifinals of the League Cup -- with the first leg to come against Sunderland on Tuesday -- Moyes must have been hoping for further cup relief from his side’s struggling league performances. That wish was soon dashed.
After a neat passing move, Alex Pozuelo’s first-time pass from just inside the United half bypassed the returning Rio Ferdinand and caught out Chris Smalling to find Routledge cutting inside from the left. The winger needed no second invitation and finished with the coolest of first-time finishes as he lobbed it over Anders Lindegaard from the edge of the box.
If rumors are to be believed, left-back Buttner may well be one of the United players to be moved on in the near future. The Dutchman’s defensive positioning has often been exposed during his United career, but he did once more show the attacking threat he poses to help get his side almost immediately back on level terms. Buttner produced the type of cross that Hernandez goes to bed dreaming about as he whipped it right into most precarious of danger zones for the Swansea defense to be met by a clinical volley by United’s poacher supreme.
Unlike in previous years, though, the goal did little to up the level of Manchester United’s performance. A midfield quartet of Antonio Valencia, Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and Shinji Kagawa was desperately lacking in quality for a club of United’s stature and ambitions, while the front two of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez was a partnership in formation alone.
Moyes suffered a further blow when Ferdinand, making his first appearance in close to a month, was forced off injured with 14 minutes remaining, but the return of Fabio to the first team after an even longer absence would be even shorter lived. The Brazilian exacerbated his side’s struggles with a reckless lunge on Jose Canas that saw his studs go into his opponent’s shin and leave the referee little choice but to produce red.
The reorganization of the United team by Moyes led much to be desired as Fletcher was moved to right back, inviting pressure from Swansea and leaving the Scot, still short of match fitness, exposed. Fletcher had already been bypassed with ease by Routledge before the scorer of Swansea’s first goal did so again before this time seeing his near-post cross find its target as Bony was somehow left free to get this third goal in two appearances and leave Moyes and United staring at a new low.