Young saves day for jittery United
Published 15/08/2011 | 05:00
Another day, another Spanish inquisition.
Manchester United's young signing from Atletico Madrid, David De Gea, is discovering that English football is an unforgiving place, a land of opposing strikers who never let up and opposing supporters who never shut up. Perfidious Albion indeed.
Another bad mistake from De Gea, this time reacting far too slowly to a routine shot from Shane Long, triggered more headlines of the 'jeepers keeper' variety.
West Brom fans shouted 'shooooot' whenever their players had possession and chanted 'dodgy keeper' whenever De Gea had the ball.
This was a Premier League baptism that almost turned into a drowning.
His manager Alex Ferguson predicted on Friday that the uncertain footwork that betrayed De Gea in the Community Shield "would not happen again". It did.
Albion certainly sensed a vulnerability, testing the 20-year-old, initially with long shots from the likes of Paul Scharner, then the Long shot that cancelled out Wayne Rooney's opener, and then with aerial challenges. De Gea looked rattled, his relief shown in a leap of joy when Ashley Young's cross late on was deflected in to give the champions a victory they scarcely deserved.
A point would certainly not have flattered Roy Hodgson's side, particularly not the outstanding front pair of Long and Somen Tchoyi. But there is a resilience to Ferguson's team and they ground out the victory.
At the final whistle, United's support network immediately wrapped De Gea in a protective embrace. This was classic United, the dressing-room closing ranks to shield a wounded colleague.
Phil Jones, Anderson and Fabio were quick to talk to De Gea, proffering advice as well as backing. Jones indicated that De Gea must use his arms to defend himself in claiming crosses and corners, and the Spaniard took one whack in the face from Long. Anderson appeared to signal that De Gea should punch more.
For all the verbal barbs, aerial balls and physical challenges launched De Gea's way, United have been down this road with talented goalkeepers before. Even the mighty Peter Schmeichel endured a torrid introduction to English football.
Although Anders Lindegaard played solidly during the tour to the United States, it would be a shock if Ferguson lost faith in De Gea now. Working with United's goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, De Gea simply needs to sharpen his concentration and learn the aerial game.
For 20 minutes of an absorbing, fluctuating game, De Gea could have been numbered among the 25,360 spectators, such was the utter control of his team-mates.
United's opener was a gem, Fabio, Rooney and the superb Young combining before Rooney placed a shot past Ben Foster.
United were utterly unplayable for a while. Danny Welbeck, one of six Englishmen in Ferguson's outfield 10, effortlessly shrugged off Gabriel Tamas. Nani wasted two fine moves with wayward shots.
The banner in the away section of the Smethwick End did not seem so far-fetched: "Same Planet, Another World".
As well as the technical touches, it was the work-rate that also impressed.
Tom Cleverley kept hounding West Brom, kept breaking upfield, much to the delight of those waving a banner that declared "who needs Wesley, we've got Cleverley".
In truth, United could still do with the defence-shredding qualities of Sneijder.
Hodgson's well-organised, well-motivated hosts lifted the siege. Rooney, again good, tracked back from his forward station, making one important interception of a Chris Brunt delivery that was destined for Scharner.
West Brom's Austrian was beginning to venture from midfield.
Scharner drew a decent save from De Gea, whose confidence seemed lifted until Long came calling a minute later. De Gea screamed to the heavens in frustration.
Suddenly, like a hot-air balloon deflating, all the buoyancy ebbed from the champions. It was as if the Spaniard's unease was contagious, inhibiting his colleagues.
United fans tried to lift him, shouting words of support as he gathered a loose ball behind his goal at one point. As he neared the West Brom fans, the reaction was rather less sympathetic. Welcome to England.
At the break, De Gea looked the loneliest man in the world as he walked from the field, the gaze of a stadium burning on the those slim shoulders.
Having lost their rhythm, United had to show their steel. Their cause was not helped by injuries to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, bringing Jonny Evans and Phil Jones into the fray.
As United fans beseeched their idols to "attack, attack, attack", Young led the charge, shooting over.
He was terrific, racing at Steven Reid time and again, eventually delivering a cross that deflected in off Tamas and Reid. United fans raided their song-book, digging out their old tune for Nicky Butt to salute Young.
West Brom refused to go quietly. When Brunt let fly, his team-mates stormed in towards De Gea in case the 'keeper spilled the shot. He didn't. United came under pressure as the game lurched through four minutes of added time.
Anderson made two important blocks. Rooney, now captain, was back, extinguishing fires. When even Foster loped into United's box, De Gea clutched the ball and seemed tempted to try his luck with Albion's goal untended.
Cleverley immediately ordered him to take his time, to run down the clock and not risk losing possession. The final whistle must certainly have sounded sweet for De Gea.
If only the Spaniard could settle in as quickly as Young. (© Daily Telegraph, London)