Manchester United lifted the gloom around Old Trafford by beating Swansea 2-0 in the English Premier League this morning (NZT) ending a three-match losing run that pushed the champions to the brink of crisis.
The relief was clear inside the iconic stadium as 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, inspired by another great display by 18-year-old winger Adnan Januzaj, 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.
"I'd like to think that we're going to improve a lot more," Moyes said, "but you've got to start somewhere."
Valencia swept home the first goal from close range less than two minutes after the break, before Welbeck glanced in a deft finish in the 59th for his sixth goal in his last six league games.
Not since 1961 had United lost four straight games but that was the ignominy staring at England's biggest club after being defeated by Tottenham in the league, Swansea in the FA Cup third round and then Sunderland in the League Cup semifinals on Tuesday.
Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie were missing for the third game in a row for United because of injury while another big name was absent from the stands - former manager Alex Ferguson.
The presence of Ferguson at both home and away games this season has been regarded by some as putting extra pressure on Moyes and his stuttering team, but the Scot was reportedly in Barbados on a family vacation. He will return from the Caribbean with United in a better state of health.
For 45 minutes, it was another ordinary performance from Ferguson's old side, which cantered to the league title by 11 points last season. It enhanced the feeling that finishing in the Champions League places may yet be beyond the class of 2013-14.
They weren't short of chances in the first half, though, with the excellent Januzaj whipping an 11th-minute free kick against the bar among the best of them.
Starting out playing in the "No 10" role, Januzaj moved to the left wing for the second half and wreaked havoc at times.
"He's been a revelation," said United midfielder Darren Fletcher, another of the team's best performers who blazed over when well positioned before halftime.
At the start of the second half, Januzaj's cross was inadvertently flicked to the back post by Chico Flores, on early as a substitute, into the path of Shinji Kagawa, whose header was parried away by goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel. Valencia swept the rebound in at the near post and relief spread around Old Trafford.
Relief turned to joy in the 59th when Welbeck produced a neat flick to turn home a scuffed shot from Patrice Evra, another example of how the England striker is developing as a finisher.
Swansea never looked like claiming a second win at Old Trafford inside six days, despite keeping it tight in the first half.
"When you are in that situation," Laudrup said of United, "scoring a goal 90 seconds into the second half is a big relief. I think that (goal) was the difference between the teams."
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