His left eye almost closed by bruising, accidentally inflicted by a stray elbow, Patrice Evra could have been excused a one-eyed verdict on his side's victory at West Bromwich. Instead, like Rio Ferdinand and Alex Ferguson, he admitted to a below-par collective display and placed his trust in the threadbare adage about winning when not playing well being a trait of champions.
After only their second away win, in which the unbeaten leaders built on referee Chris Foy's failure to award the first-half penalty which would have had the inevitable consequence of Gary Neville's dismissal, Evra claimed United prevailed "because we are a team of warriors". The Frenchman was honest enough, however, to add: "It was not a good performance."
The candour was contagious. Ferdinand conceded United were fortunate not only with Neville's escape but with the 63rd-minute spot-kick Peter Odemwingie sent wide. It came when they were struggling to contain an Albion team striving to add to James Morrison's riposte to Wayne Rooney's header. "Sometimes you need a bit of luck," said United's captain, "and we got some."
Ferguson also "thought it was a penalty" when Neville brought down Graham Dorrans, which could serve as the dictionary definition of stonewall. United's credit column did contain two auspicious entries -- Rooney's first league goal from open play since March and Javier Hernandez's burgeoning reputation as a predatory substitute in the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mould.
If there was a touch of hyperbole in Ferguson's description of Rooney's contribution as "world-class", there were unmistakable signs of the sharpness and commitment missing since last spring. "Hopefully his goal will shut a few people up and he can get on with playing football and scoring goals, which is what he does best. He has been playing well in the past few games. We all knew the goals would come because he's such a good player. Fingers crossed he can go on a good run," said Ferdinand.
Evra, too, talked up Rooney's renaissance. "Wazza has been working hard and showed his character to stay on the pitch (after Chris Brunt's heavy challenge injured his left ankle in the closing minutes)."
Rooney (pictured), who should be fit to face Stoke tomorrow, also delivered the corner converted by Hernandez. "When 'Chicho' comes on, you know he'll score the first chance he gets," said Evra. United's spirit and ability to dig out such wins may give them the edge this season over less resilient rivals. This, though, is not as impressive a side as the title winners of 2009, when Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez were still on board, Neville's decline was not so obvious and midfield would never have been outplayed by Albion's.
At The Hawthorns, where Ferguson paid Albion's head coach Roberto Di Matteo the compliment of realigning his formation halfway through the contest, United's central unit was as weak as one can remember during his reign. Gabriel Obertan was particularly ineffectual, and while United continue to be linked with Ashley Young and Charles N'Zogbia, it cannot be long before Tom Cleverley's impact during his loan to Wigan earns his recall.
If United are warriors, Albion are becoming worriers, standing just three points above the relegation zone. They may not survive unless Di Matteo can sort out a glass-jaw defence and find a goalscorer.
Odemwingie appeared capable of filling the latter role, yet failed miserably when a second Albion goal would have been one in the eye for Ferguson's men.