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Rio Ferdinand's late winner ensured Sir Alex Ferguson's final match in charge at Old Trafford ended in victory for Manchester United. The Barclays Premier League champions put in an impressive display in the first half and led thanks to Javier Hernandez, but Swansea improved after half-time and a Michu strike looked to have secured a point for the visitors, only for Ferdinand to hit an 87th-minute winner.
Given United's record under Ferguson of scoring late goals that decide crucial games, it was a fitting way for the Scot to bow out on home soil. Ferguson's side included seven changes to the team that lost 1-0 to Chelsea last weekend as Paul Scholes started his final match at Old Trafford before he joins his manager in retirement, but the biggest surprise was Wayne Rooney's exclusion from the United squad. Michael Laudrup made five changes from the win over Wigan Athletic in midweek.
The home side came close to opening the scoring inside the first five minutes as Robin van Persie played Hernandez into the penalty area and the Mexican hit a left-footed shot on to the crossbar, while he had a header deflected wide by Chico Flores 10 minutes later.
United dominated the early proceedings as Hernandez, Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa linked up effortlessly, but at the other end of the pitch the interchanging between Pablo Hernandez, Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge proved less effective as David De Gea remained untested.
The lack of attacking problems being posed by Swansea meant Patrice Evra was able to get himself into the visitors' penalty area on numerous occasions, and after outmuscling Dwight Tiendalli on the left, he shot but Gerhard Tremmel saved the Frenchman’s tame effort at the near post.
Ferguson’s team continued to be the only side that looked like scoring and the goal came with six minutes left of the first half. The ball broke kindly for Hernandez in the area after Ashley Williams’ failed clearance and he placed the ball under Tremmel to give United the lead.
Swansea began the second half with more attacking intent and after United failed to clear a corner, Michu equalised in the 49th minute as he beat Phil Jones to Dyer's right-wing cross and directed it past De Gea with the outside of his left foot. United's poor start to the half almost got even worse three minutes later as Routledge exchanged quick passes with Michu, outpaced Ferdinand and burst into the penalty area, but he poked a shot just wide of De Gea's left-hand post.
With time running out, Anderson and Antonio Valencia came on for the champions just prior to the 70th minute and the Brazilian midfielder went close to having an immediate impact as he smashed a volley a few inches wide of Tremmel's left post.
As the match entered the final 10 minutes, a Swansea winner looked increasingly likely, but when a Van Persie corner cleared everyone in the visitors' penalty area Ferdinand held his nerve and hammered a half-volley into the top of the net from six yards out, gifting Ferguson the perfect way to end his tenure at Old Trafford.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: "The boys did great, it was a good game actually. Some good football was played. I was really proud of them.
"What a send-off, my eyes were bubbling a bit. The atmosphere was unbelievable and I'm very proud of my fans. My retirement doesn't mean the end of my life with the club," said Ferguson who will stay at United as a director. I will be able to now enjoy watching them, rather than suffer with them. But if you think about the last-minute goals, the comebacks, even the defeats, are all about this great club of ours.
"It's been an unbelievable experience for all of us. So thank you for that."
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup: "In the first half we were lucky to only be 1-0 down but we had an excellent second half, scored the equalise, were the better team and had a couple of huge chances. Unfortunately in the last couple of minutes we conceded at another set piece - the thing that has been our weak point all season.
"Next season I want to try to consolidate Swansea. There is a lot of challenge there, we're playing in Europe and we would like to have that experience as a club, as a team and I would like to be a part of that. Then let's see what happens in the future. This season will always be remembered for the cup but to be in the top 10 is something really, really great.
"Money is not all not in life, and not in football but it's quite important and to have the lowest budget in the league means to finish in the top 10 may be an even bigger result. Our aim has to be to try to consolidate in mid-table. That sounds a bit arrogant but we finished 11th last year and eighth or ninth this season. That's what we have to aim for next season as well and it won't be easy as I know some of the clubs below us want to spend heavily so it's another huge challenge."