Old Trafford farewells Hero

Posted by Mark Payne

John Peters/Man Utd/Getty ImagesRio Ferdinand's first goal in five years gave Sir Alex a fond Old Trafford farewell.

Old Trafford has never been so red. This ground and its attendees have come in for criticism over the years, but when the occasion calls for it, they never let you down. The crowd roared for Alex Ferguson, the spectators formed mosaics reading the word 'champions' and the numbers 20 and 13.

- Fergie bows out with home win

The great man walked out through a guard of honour from the two teams and seemed almost sheepish at the grandeur of the tribute. He has earned it. There was no point of reference for this occasion, but in victory and spirit it fit the bill. The team, the supporters and the club honoured the retiring Sir Alex with emotion and gusto.

Paul Scholes admitted in a pre-match interview with Gary Neville that he was delighted with the timing of his own personal retirement. Any other day and he would have been the centre of attention. Not in the same week that Fergie retires and Wayne Rooney reportedly asks for a transfer, though.

Rooney's absence was conspicuous and will inspire a thousand rumours. It confirms only one thing; that he is no longer part of Sir Alex's plans. Circumstances give Rooney another chance. Whether he remains at Old Trafford remains to be seen.

There was no small amount of delight on display about the result from yesterday's FA Cup final. The denouement of last season was painful for United and perhaps the schadenfreude was understandable. News that Roberto Mancini had been sacked emerged shortly before kickoff and the locals certainly enjoyed it.

United didn't take long to start moving forward with intent. The approach play by the forward line is mesmeric at times and Javier Hernandez hit the bar as early as the fourth minute. However, Swansea were not interested in being steamrollered and were the match for United's slick approach moves for most of the first half. United's strikers have had more incisive periods, too.

But the breakthrough came for the home team. It was always going to. Robin van Persie sent in a speculative free kick from the left that fell kindly for Hernandez. The arch poacher made no mistake and buried his shot under the flailing goalkeeper.

Peter Schmeichel suggested that the team had been set up to enable Paul Scholes to score. After United took the lead, that seemed to be the primary objective of the players.

The second half began as the first finished, with United stuttering somewhat through the occasion. Michu has been lethal all season and his equaliser was unsentimentally clinical. His volley from an in-swinging cross outsmarted Phil Jones in close quarters and David de Gea in goal. If United were to win, they were going to have to earn it.

As things happened, Swansea were far the better team as the match wore on. Swansea were sufficiently emboldened to attack with sweet abandon and were extremely unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty when Jones handled in the United box.

Scholes came off to great acclaim and Ryan Giggs came on for Hernandez, too. This left the home team in the unusual position of playing out the last half hour of the match with only one striker. Perhaps this was all part of Ferguson's final, diabolical plan, because the next goal was a collector's item.

Against the run of play, Rio Ferdinand blasted home his first goal in five years like his life depended on it. The crowd and the occasion stirred back into life and Rio celebrated like a lottery winner. That famous Fergie smile flashed again.

"My retirement doesn't mean the end of my life with the club," Ferguson said as he took the microphone post-match. "Perhaps I can now enjoy watching them instead of suffering with them."

He described his time as manager as "the best experience of my life." He has given so much to the club but he left the fans with a prescient message. "Your job now is to stand by our new manager."

In short, Manchester should always be United.

The crowd sang as one.


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