Monday 20 November 2017

United send ominous message to title rivals

West Brom 1 Man Utd 2

Manchester United's goal scorers Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez celebrate at the Hawthorns yesterday. Photo: Nick Potts/PA
Manchester United's goal scorers Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez celebrate at the Hawthorns yesterday. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

DION FANNING

Sometimes it appears it doesn't matter who plays for Manchester United. Yesterday, United doubled their number of away wins for the season with a victory at West Brom that was ominous for their several title challengers.

United got most of the breaks, including a missed West Brom spot kick, although both sides were also denied strong penalty claims. And it is hardwired into Ferguson's side to take those breaks. This is an ordinary United team that is unbeaten and top of the league.

Yet three of their closest rivals went on to win yesterday. Chelsea get their chance today.

"It was a really tough game," Ferguson admitted afterwards. "We were hanging on defensively but our two centre-backs were magnificent."

United were outplayed by Roberto Di Matteo's side for much of the game. Whenever Gary Neville plays these days, he looks like he will have to be removed for his own protection.

And he should have been sent off when he brought down Graham Dorrans in the first half but no penalty was awarded. Even Ferguson conceded afterwards it was a penalty.

Wayne Rooney's first goal from open play since March 2010 gave United the lead before a stunning shot from James Morrison brought West Brom level. This was the Rooney United had been waiting for if this is still not the United side he wants to play in, not with Gabriel Obertan in the side.

When Peter Odemwingie missed a second-half penalty, United responded from ancient memory. Chicarito, on as a sub, headed the winner and United lead the way.

Rooney drove them, returning to the field even after injuring an ankle, which might keep him out for two weeks.

"It's for everyone to win . . . or lose," Ferguson said, but he knows his side can summon strength from a source not available to the others.

His main rivals, Manchester City, will spend again this month, just as surely as Ferguson rules it out.

Yaya Toure drove City on against a resilient Blackpool and a deflected Adam Johnson shot ensured the points. City made it difficult when Carlos Tevez missed a penalty but they are level on points with United and ready to engage.

Spurs, too, remained in contention with a win at home to Fulham.

Arsenal were able to forget about the dropped points at Wigan as they overcame a robust challenge from Birmingham with goals in either half from Robin van Persie and Samir Nasri before a Roger Johnson own goal ensured the points. At the bottom of the table, Wolves lost at West Ham in a key game, which moves Avram Grant's side out of the bottom three and put Wolves bottom again.

Wolves' victory at Anfield last Wednesday looked to have hastened the end for Roy Hodgson at Liverpool and although he might believe the pressure eased with Liverpool's win at home to Bolton, he is effectively staggering from game to game.

Once again, Hodgson made some baffling post-match comments when he said he would have been happy with a draw before again pointing out that he didn't have a magic wand. Once again, he was excusing his own limitations and it won't go on much longer.

"If we had won on Wednesday, you would now be asking me about the Champions League," Hodgson said, referring to the defeat to Wolves that left Liverpool three points above the relegation zone.

Liverpool picked up their first points from a losing position yesterday with Joe Cole getting his first league goal after Fernando Torres scored a devastating equaliser.

They face Blackburn on Wednesday and then United in the FA Cup next weekend. Hodgson will need an unlikely victory to keep going, but even that is only postponing the inevitable. The Fenway Sports Group is ready to wave their magic wand and make Hodgson disappear.

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