Stuttering United slump to defeat at hands of Myhill
Manchester Utd 0-1 West Brom
Published 03/05/2015 | 02:30
As you were. Louis van Gaal is a duffer again after supervising three defeats in a row - the light aeroplane on duty at Anfield might soon be back here again at this rate - while Tony Pulis is a genius once more for securing safety for his side at the most intimidating of venues.
Is Old Trafford still intimidating? It was a few months ago but United appeared to have regressed since then. Faced with a packed and determined defence the home side huffed and puffed all afternoon but made few inroads, leaving their visitors to steal the points and reach the accepted target of 40 with a slice of luck from a Chris Brunt free-kick in the second half. By the end one could only admire West Brom's chutzpah, a quality United appear to have temporarily mislaid.
There was a show of support for Rio Ferdinand, following the tragic news of his wife's death being made public on the morning of the match, with both sets of supporters joining in a minute's applause. United had Robin van Persie back in the starting line-up for the first time since February, and most of the ground thought that he had put the home side into the lead when he met Ashley Young's cross from the left with a first time finish at the near post mid-way through the first half. West Brom had been carved open and Van Persie had the goal at his mercy, yet to the relief of the statuesque Boaz Myhill the drilled low shot passed harmlessly a few inches the wrong side of an upright.
United did most of the first-half attacking without finding too many ways through Pulis's two lines of defence. When the home side had the ball, which was almost all of the time, West Brom (effectively lining up with five across the midfield with only Saido Berahino as an isolated outlet up front), hoping to keep things tight for as long as possible and rely on set-pieces.
A passage of play at the start of the second half demonstrated what United were up against. Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata spent two minutes or so playing the ball across the edge of the Albion penalty area, first one way, then the other, without finding any line of weakness in a compact defence.
Finally Van Persie tired of waiting for a pass and came back to pick up the ball, only for his bright idea, a lofted pass forward in the direction of Marouane Fellaini, to hand possession back to the visitors. When Fellaini went down in search of a penalty a minute or so later, tumbling under an innocuous challenge from Craig Gardner, it seemed to be a sign that United were becoming a little desperate.
They certainly must have felt that way when West Brom took a shock lead just past the hour, scoring from a set-piece - what else? - to leave United staring at a third defeat in a row. Patrick McNair had given away a free-kick 25 yards out with a blatant body check on Darren Fletcher, and when Brunt crashed in a shot a fortuitous deflection off Jonas Olsson in the wall left David de Gea no chance. Angel Di Maria must have been wondering when he might get a chance to pit his wits against West Brom's blanket defence, and the answer came within seconds of his side going behind. The only surprise was that Van Gaal did not throw Radamel Falcao and Adnan Januzaj on as well, because it was clearly going to take something extraordinary to get back on terms.
That something appeared to have arrived in the 72nd minute when Berahino was unlucky to be pulled up for handball in the area. Unlucky because it was debatable whether he was actually in the area when Valencia's cross struck him on the elbow, and even more doubtful whether he had any chance of getting out of the way. That was the extent of United's luck, however, for Myhill guessed correctly.
Luck stayed on West Brom's side in stoppage time too, with Myhill producing notable stops to deny Van Persie and Di Maria.
There was nothing remotely unjust about this result. The visitors deserved it.
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