Friday 22 November 2019

Moyes gets timely boost

West Brom 0 Manchester United 3

Shinji Kagawa of Manchester United in action with Youssouf Mulumbu of West Bromwich Albion
Shinji Kagawa of Manchester United in action with Youssouf Mulumbu of West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich Albion's Nigerian striker Victor Anichebe (R) is given a yellow card
Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata of Manchester United celebrate
Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (L) scores their second goal with a header past goalkeeper Ben Forster of West Bromwich Albion
Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United battles with Youssuf Mulumbu of West Bromwich Albion

John Percy

There were boos after the final whistle, but this time the manager under growing pressure and facing a battle to keep his job was not David Moyes.

Manchester United succeeded where the likes of Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger have failed this season by winning at West Bromwich Albion, with Moyes's players producing the perfect response to repair the wreckage of defeat in Athens. Not even the escalating concerns over Robin van Persie's state of mind could damage this stroll in the Black Country.

United will face far bigger challenges this month, but this result could have severe repercussions for Pepe Mel, who is fighting for his West Brom future less than two months after his appointment.

Mel is yet to win in seven games and this defeat could end his brief tenure, with the club only a point above the relegation zone and showing no signs of mounting a revival.

"An Evening with Pepe Mel", scheduled for March 26, was frequently flashed across the screens at the Hawthorns, but it is growing increasingly uncertain that the Spaniard will still be in this country to attend.

Albion cannot have expected such turbulence since their historic win at Old Trafford in September. Steve Clarke was dismissed less than three months later while Mel's appointment still appears flawed, with the ongoing controversy over Nicolas Anelka's quenelle gesture not helping.

Mel's post-match press conference was painful to watch. "It doesn't depend on me (what happens). All I am thinking about is working tomorrow," he said.

"I'm just focused on putting all of my energy into making sure West Brom win at Swansea next weekend. This is all part of the profession. I hope players react well to playing under pressure like I am used to.

"The next four matches are very important for us. We need 11 men, we need 11 professional players and good personalities. This is for the future of the club."

For Moyes, the past 10 days, since that chastening evening in Greece, have been agonising. This was obviously viewed as another potential banana skin, and he named arguably his strongest starting XI, though Tom Cleverley was not even named in the squad despite the manager's impassioned defence of the midfielder on Friday.

United had early chances, with Youssouf Mulumbu forced to head Chris Brunt's hashed clearance off the goal-line before Ben Foster unconvincingly pushed Rafael's effort on to the crossbar. Moyes was agitated, getting himself embroiled in a needless spat with an assistant referee after a throw-in went the way of the home team.

But the "sacked in the morning" chants from the Albion supporters in the Smethwick End had only just died away when United took the lead. Van Persie's free-kick from the right was inviting and Phil Jones rose unmarked to head home.

United still appeared fragile at the back, with Claudio Yacob and Victor Anichebe both going close, and the misfortune that has dogged Moyes since his arrival appeared again shortly before half-time when Foster, rushing out of his penalty area, completely missed an attempted clearance and appeared to handle the ball only to inexplicably escape punishment from Jonathan Moss, the referee.

He was also under scrutiny early in the second period after two debatable challenges from Van Persie. The first, on Morgan Amalfitano, earned a booking and the second, on Steven Reid, was clumsy, even though replays showed he had won the ball. Perhaps Albion's players had got in the way of his space?

Moss, possibly pressured by the surrounding United players, was unmoved and Van Persie escaped. It was to be his final contribution, as he was taken off just after the hour.

Just when Albion appeared to be gaining an advantage, United added a second with Rafael's cross presenting Wayne Rooney with an easy header at the far post.

The third came when Danny Welbeck, a substitute, produced a clinical finish after Rooney's through-ball.

United will now prepare for a crucial month with confidence restored, while Albion are running out of time to preserve their four-year Premier League existence and Mel, a decent man handed a hospital pass of a job, could pay the price.


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