MANCHESTER // Manchester United lifted the gloom around Old Trafford by beating Swansea City 2-0 on Saturday to end a three-match losing run that pushed the English champions to the brink of a crisis.
The relief was clear inside the stadium after Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck scored second-half goals to revive a season that was in danger of derailing under new manager David Moyes.
The win not only keeps seventh-place United in touch with the top six but will go some way to restoring confidence after a chastening start to 2014 that saw the team defeated three times in six days.
Defeats by Tottenham Hotspur, Swansea and Sunderland had left United at risk of losing four successive games for the first time since 1961, but they blew off the cobwebs with an assured display at Old Trafford.
Valencia swept home the first goal from close range less than two minutes after the break, before Welbeck deftly glanced in the second in the 59th minute for his sixth goal in his past six league games.
The win came six days after Swansea had dumped United out of the FA Cup on the same pitch.
Teenage winger Adnan Januzaj was the catalyst for United’s victory and he went close to opening the scoring in the 11th minute with a free kick that struck the crossbar.
Welbeck also squandered a glorious chance when he bundled wide, but the pressure told early in the second period when Valencia tapped home after Gerhard Tremmel parried a header from Shinji Kagawa.
Januzaj provided the cross for Kagawa and he was also the source of United’s second goal, in the 59th minute, with a centre that was cleared to Patrice Evra, whose first-time shot was deftly flicked home by Welbeck.
With Januzaj outstanding and Kagawa providing valuable support, some of the hosts’ old swagger began to return.
They looked certain to get a third goal but Smalling somehow managed to scoop over from barely three yards after being picked out, completely unmarked, at the far post by Kagawa.
It was the Japan midfielder’s turn to fail with the goal at his mercy shortly afterwards when Rafael fed the ball through to him after leading a rapid break from deep inside his own half.
Kagawa seemed to have done everything right, only for Leon Britton to get back on the line to clear a shot that just lacked the pace to get it over.
Still, victory was a relief for Moyes and, with a week before his side’s visit to Chelsea, he might be able to do some business in the transfer market, although the sight of Robin van Persie in the stands and the knowledge Wayne Rooney is warm-weather training in Egypt underlines the class United are missing.