Football Football

Ferdinand crafts fitting home finale for Fergie


FERGIE-LAST-GAMEMANCHESTER, United Kingdom, May 12 – Rio Ferdinand’s first league goal in five-and-a-half years ensured Alex Ferguson was given a winning send-off, thanks to a 2-1 Premier League victory over Swansea at Old Trafford, in the veteran manager’s final home game in charge of the club.

Swansea’s Michu had equalised an opening goal from United forward Javier Hernandez and a day of celebration seemed destined to end in minor disappointment until Ferdinand, who signed for Ferguson in July 2002, appeared on the end of Robin van Persie’s 87th minute corner and shot home from six yards.

In an emotional post-match speech, Ferguson, who will be succeeded by Everton manager David Moyes, praised all at the club during his 26 years in charge.

“I had bad times here and the club stood by me, the players and fans did too. Your job now is to stand by our new manager,” said Ferguson.

As a typically torrential Manchester afternoon dampened proceedings — if not the mood — the fixture that marked Ferguson’s final home game was always to be largely irrelevant, with the manager having won his 13th English league title two weeks earlier.

But the significance of the occasion made for an electric atmosphere at Old Trafford as the teams came out and created a guard of honour for the retiring manager.

Ferguson made a low-key entrance in the circumstances, taking his place on the United bench for the 1,499th time as manager, as a club employee held up the electronic substitutes’ board to display the figures “26” and “38” — the number of years Ferguson has been in charge and the number of major trophies he has won, respectively.

The 75,000-plus crowd had also been issued with flags — red for United, white for the few thousand visiting supporters — while one side of the stadium displayed a mosaic which spelt out “Champions” during the pre-match festivities.

There was such an air of celebration and reminiscence around Old Trafford that one burning issue hardly registered — the fact that England striker Wayne Rooney was not even named among the substitutes by Ferguson.

News emerged this week that, for the second time in two years, Rooney had recently requested a transfer, one initially rejected by Ferguson who clearly made his feelings known in his penultimate ever United team selection.

Instead, all eyes on the pitch were cast towards Paul Scholes, the 38-year-old United midfielder, who had similarly announced he is to retire at season’s end and was handed a start by Ferguson.

Injuries have ravaged Scholes’ final season in the game, with the former England international not having appeared since late January, and there was an obvious willing among team mates and supporters alike for the popular midfielder to mark his farewell with a goal.

The closest he came was in the 25th minute when Hernandez slipped through a neat pass but Scholes failed to make decent contact with an 18-yard shot that was easily stopped by Gerhard Tremmel.

Indeed, Hernandez was influential in most of United’s best attacking moments before finally giving his team a 39th minute lead when Ashley Williams deflected a van Persie free-kick into his path. The Mexican forward slid in with a well-timed shot that beat the dive of Tremmel.

Hernandez had struck the underside of the bar after just four minutes and volleyed just over later in the half while van Persie’s crisp 18-yard strike forced Tremmel into conceding a corner just before the break.

But events on the field were of secondary importance to United fans, who also found time to poke fun at local rivals Manchester City and their manager Roberto Mancini, the subject of increasingly frenzied speculation that he is to be sacked by the club.

It took just four minutes of the second half for Swansea to equalise, with their first meaningful attack, as Michu scored from six yards with a spectacular, twisting volley from Nathan Dyer’s cross; a goal followed, moments later, by Wayne Routledge almost putting the visitors in front as he exchanged passes with Michu and rolled a shot just wide of the far post.

Pablo Hernandez’s near-post shot was well saved by David de Gea and Chico Flores appealed for handball after his shot struck Nemanja Vidic before Scholes took his leave, replaced by Anderson, after 65 minutes.

Danny Welbeck almost played in Hernandez and Anderson shot just wide from the edge of the area until, fittingly, a player who has been alongside Ferguson for a decade settled the contest.