Lingard eases United pressure
Manchester United 2 West Brom 0
How many Manchester United fans would relish a 21st title if it was won the Louis van Gaal way? Most would surely accept it, so perhaps the degree of criticism aimed at the manager is unfair.
Especially as he is currently achieving the right results. Tuesday's victory over CSKA Moscow carried United top of their Champions League group, and this win brought them to within one point of Manchester City and Arsenal, who have played a game fewer, and Leicester, who have played the same number of games.
There can be no disguising, though, that this was hardly a display of liquid football. It required a sweet Jesse Lingard goal - his first for the club - and a late Juan Mata penalty to confirm the points, after Gareth McAuley was sent off for tripping Anthony Martial. But the bottom line is Van Gaal's men won, and this is the name of the managerial game.
United came into the contest having not scored a league goal for 208 minutes, since Wayne Rooney's 62nd-minute strike at Everton on October 17. On Tuesday, there had been chants of "Attack, attack, attack!" before and during the 1-0 win over CSKA, and boos when Martial was replaced by Marouane Fellaini, viewed as another negative move from the 64-year-old.
Boosted by the result, Van Gaal poked fun at the fans for this. "Against CSKA when you are yelling: 'Attack, attack, attack!' and when you are 85 minutes on the attack, then you have to think by yourself, as a fan: 'Hey, hey, is that all right to yell?' They want to let them [the players] know that we have to score. Of course, my mother also knows that and my grandmother knows that."
Yesterday there was applause and oohs and aahs, and no mutinous noises. United dominated from the start and offered enough potency to suggest they would score first. Martial was again the No 9 and Rooney the second forward, as Van Gaal likes to describe the captain when he operates in a slightly withdrawn role. Rooney had one volley blocked, then created an opening for Mata. The Spaniard attempted a curler beyond Boaz Myhill, aimed to go inside the goalkeeper's right post, but it went wide. Martial is in a run of form where just about every time he pulls on the United shirt he impresses. Jonny Evans was the latest defender to be burned by the Frenchman, when being barged aside, before Martial turned, moved effortlessly into space and crossed.
The half's outstanding moment was also his. From a duff Rooney free-kick that hit the first man the ball was eventually headed by Chris Smalling to Martial in a crowded area. One shimmering shoulder drop later the 19-year-old was in a yard of space and Myhill did well to repel the rocket that was propelled at his goal.
Van Gaal again started Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger in central midfield, as he had against CSKA. Their contribution was hardly eye-catching and the German, especially, lacked sharpness, ballooning one shot into the crowd. Morgan Schneiderlin was said by Van Gaal to be ill, though he was well enough to be named on the bench.
Tony Pulis's side had come to defend so they would have been content as the second half began. This was about to change. Martial, again, was the spark. The striker wandered floated in a cross, which Chris Brunt headed straight into the path of Lingard. From outside the area and to the left of centre the forward steered a composed finish inside Myhill's left post.
This stopped the clock on United's league goal drought after four hours and 20 minutes and when the camera cut to Van Gaal he was chuckling as a melee of United players mobbed Lingard.
West Brom now enjoyed their brightest passage - this is a relative judgement - and should have had an equaliser after 74 minutes. Craig Dawson swung in a ball from the right that landed plumb on Saido Berahino's head, yet from right in front of David de Gea the striker sent the ball over.
With 14 minutes left the Manchester-born Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, an 18-year-old left-back, replaced Marcos Rojo to make his debut for United. Later, Rooney was replaced by Ander Herrera to a soundtrack of cheers. These seemed to be in appreciation of the captain rather than his removal, though there was a moment when it was difficult to tell. There was, though, no confusion regarding the home supporters' jubilant reaction to the final whistle. Winning generally does this to all fans. Observer
Sunday Indo Sport