Ferguson's problems laid bare by battling West Brom
After five minutes at Old Trafford yesterday, Alex Ferguson was said to have got it right again.
If beating West Brom at Old Trafford was all Ferguson had to do, he would rarely be wrong. Yesterday looked like being another day of vindication. He had left Wayne Rooney on the bench, Javier Hernandez had opened the scoring for United and, 20 minutes later, Nani had scored a second.
But beating West Brom at home is beyond this Alex Ferguson side. Having failed to win away from home this season, United brought that form to Old Trafford, throwing away a two-goal lead at home for only the second time in the Premier League.
West Brom cannot be considered pushovers, despite losing 6-0 to Chelsea on the opening day. They have beaten Arsenal at the Emirates and now, helped by a Patrice Evra own goal and an Edwin van der Sar mistake which allowed Somen Tchoyi to equalise, they have taken a point at Old Trafford.
"I've said to Edwin the last time he made a mistake like that he was at primary school," Ferguson said later.
Chelsea didn't take advantage, drawing 0-0 at Aston Villa, but they remain five points clear at the top. Branislav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka both hit the woodwork, but Villa had chances too with Stephen Ireland and John Carew missing opportunities in the opening minutes and Nigel Reo-Coker wasting a great chance in the final minutes. Richard Dunne went off after 13 minutes when he cut his foot in a hefty challenge with Ramires. He was replaced by Ciaran Clark a player who may feature in Giovanni Trapattoni's next squad after declaring for Ireland.
Chelsea may have boosted United but that is all they can be happy about at Old Trafford. Ferguson can no longer continue pushing the idea that he is happy with this squad, that he has been supported in everything he asks for by the Glazers.
When Tom Hicks hails your management and your refusal to criticise the owners, Ferguson, the man who learned all about loyalty in Govan, must consider if he can continue to support the Glazers as the club is drained of resources. Rooney and Ferguson might not be getting on as they once did but that's a sideshow. Rooney is essential to United but he hasn't signed a new contract and he may be wondering about his long-term future at a club which appears to be trying to function with the minimum of resources.
It may be significant that United lost the lead once Ryan Giggs went off shortly before half-time. As he chased the game, Ferguson sent Rooney and Paul Scholes on.
Ferguson's handling of the situations he has had in his career with players like Beckham, Keane and Van Nistelrooy was mythologised last week. In short, once they are more trouble than they are worth, he gets rid of them. Before that, he'll do anything for them. At the moment, he cannot upset Rooney too much. United, thanks to the Glazers, still need Giggs and Scholes and they cannot afford to lose Rooney.
A victory at Blackpool today and Manchester City will move above them and into second place. No club can match City's resources but the crippling interest payments at Old Trafford are handicapping United from competing.
After a week of outrage about tackles, Arsenal's Jack Wilshere was sent off for a tackle Arsene Wenger admitted deserved a red card. "He is not a dirty player," Wenger insisted as somewhere Sam Allardyce added evidence to a dossier.
Arsenal had gone behind to a Nikola Zigic header from a Keith Fahey cross before Samir Nasri from the penalty spot and Marouane Chamakh gave Arsenal the points.
Tottenham also came from behind at Fulham but there was controversy. Tom Huddlestone's winning goal was initially disallowed for offside but referee Mike Dean, after a long consultation, decided that William Gallas, who had been flagged offside, had not affected the ball's trajectory. Mark Hughes, not surprisingly, saw a different trajectory.