Wednesday 13 December 2017

Ferguson rues schoolboy error as United slip again

Man United 2 West Brom 2

From Wayne Rooney's absence to throwing points away, the bizarre is becoming routine in Manchester United's increasingly damaging start to the campaign.

This was the third time this season United have thrown away a lead to draw and the second occasion they have coughed up a two-goal advantage to end up losing two points.

Whatever his motivation, Alex Ferguson gambled by starting with Rooney on the bench after the forward had last week contradicted the manager's claims that he had been absent with an ankle problem.

The issue seemed less relevant when Javier Hernandez and Nani gave the hosts a comfortable lead midway through the opening period, but two goals in five minutes after the interval, the first bundled over the line by Patrice Evra and Somen Tchoyi, the second coming after a bad Edwin van der Sar error, had the crowd baying for Rooney.

The England forward, who has been recently dogged by accusations about his private life, was thrown on with 18 minutes remaining, playing down the left for the first time since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure.

That cameo brought only one blocked shot and United left the field to boos as it began to sink in that Ferguson's side have drawn five of their eight Premier League games this season. With Liverpool struggling, United have not even faced opposition of much note but 10 points have been dropped in a campaign full of late and bad goals.

"It's inexplicable," said Ferguson, who lost veteran Ryan Giggs to a recurrence of his hamstring problem. "The second goal, what can you say? Edwin has been playing for 25 years and the last time he made a mistake like that was probably in primary school, so there's nothing you can do about that.

"It's just one of those inexplicable errors.

"You have to just wipe it off the slate.

"The criticism is we didn't finish them off. We are losing points. It's frustrating. It's not a defining result in terms of where the league is going to end up but we can't keep doing that. There's two ways of looking at [being unbeaten in eight matches]. For teams down the league, you say we're undefeated but for United, it's not good enough," he continued.

Even with Rooney's lack of form, United have still rarely struggled for goals this season but, once again, they paid dearly for some dreadful defending.

It had all looked so different after 24 minutes. Hernandez showed wonderful anticipation to pounce after Scott Carson fumbled Nani's thumping free kick and Dimitar Berbatov had missed from close range. Nani later capitalised on a slip from Nicky Shorey to swap passes with Berbatov and double United's lead.

Even with United leading, West Brom missed a great opportunity when Chris Brunt failed to hit the target from a couple of yards after a Marc-Antoine Fortune cross split the defence.

Centre-half Nemanja Vidic hit the post with a header from Nani's cross after the restart but then United threw away their advantage yet again.

Brunt drove in a free-kick from a narrow angle that glanced off Evra and bounced off the oblivious Cameroon midfielder Tchoyi to cross the line before Van der Sar could claw it away.

Shortly after, Van der Sar spilled Brunt's looping cross and Tchoyi touched into an empty net. Half an hour remained but other than a Evra drive, Carson had little else to do.

With Rooney playing in a deeper role, his only chance came from an indirect free kick and, having won 3-2 at Arsenal in their last away match, West Brom, who lost 6-0 at Chelsea on the opening weekend, were worth their point.

"It was an afternoon of gifts for both sides," West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo said.

"We could have gone under. They are full of quality, whoever plays. We showed team spirit and the personality that we have in the team and we never give up. That is my philosophy.

"If Manchester United had got a third, the game would probably have been over. But I thought it was a correct result.

"Every game has its own history, so I wasn't thinking about their results, but I just felt if we got one back, it might make them nervous."

Di Matteo neatly sidestepped the Rooney issue, insisting there was no feeling of euphoria when he saw the United team-sheet before kick-off.

"Javier Hernandez scored, didn't he?" challenged the Italian.

"Manchester United are a squad full of quality players. You look at their team-sheet and think 'uh-oh, they have a strong side there'."

Sunday Independent

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