Special RvP strike seals a fine win for Manchester United
Manchester United kept a rare clean sheet at home against a spirited West Brom side, and rode on a McAuley own goal and RvP strike to record a 2-0 win. Manchester City‘s narrow win at Carrow road saw United’s lead maintained at seven points, but West Brom’s European aspirations took a blow with Tottenham recording a win as well. It was a game in which the visitors applied a decent spell of pressure in the second half, particularly after the introduction of Lukaku, but excellent defending, particularly from Vidic saw United home.
Fresh looking teams took the pitch for both sides, with Robin van Persie being the most notable absentee, while Shinji Kagawa started his first game in over two months for United. Steve Clarke seemed to have sent out a slightly different side than what usually takes the pitch as well, with Rosenberg and Odemwinigie both starting behind Shane Long. The opening few minutes saw the ball moved to both ends of the pitch, with Shane Long having a weak penalty claim waved away after a challenge in the box by Chris Smalling in the 5th minute. However, in a rare change of plot, United drew first blood in the 9th minute with their first real threat, when Gareth McAuley diverted the ball into his own net off a cross from Ashley Young. Good interplay between Young and Kagawa saw the Japanese star’s lob over the defence find its way to Young, who managed to get the vital deflection off McAuley to make it 1-0 in the 9th minute.
United continued to press on a slippery surface, with incessant rain having battered Manchester, and Ben Foster was called into action twice in quick succession, once to claim a long ball, and once to stop a curled attempt from Welbeck. Shane Long was the only attacking outlet for West Brom though, and tight defending from United meant that there were no real threats on De Gea’s goal in the opening quarter of the game. Poor decision making from their players didn’t do much to help the case for the Baggies, as two balls into the box from Chris Brunt went straight to United defenders and failed to cause any real problems. The home side nearly doubled their lead from a counterattack when a Valencia cutback was volleyed goalwards by Ashley Young, only for Foster to deflect it onto the crossbar with a reflex punch. It was Carrick’s turn to come close to scoring from the resulting corner, as Vidic kept possession under pressure and rolled it out to the midfielder, whose calm attempt was met with a clearance from the last line of defence.
West Brom nearly engineered their own demise, when a back pass to Foster saw the former United ‘keeper take a touch, allowing Welbeck and Kagawa to close in on him, and then struck it against the English striker, but thankfully saw the ball rebound harmlessly out for a goal kick. They did manage a little bit of pressure at the fag end of the half with a couple of free kicks from dangerous positions, but saw both come to nought, walking into the dressing room at half time with a one goal deficit.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first, with United having most of the possession, and Cleverley seemed almost impossible to handle for the visitors. De Gea did have to make his first save of the match just before the clock struck 50 minutes though, although it was only off a tame long range effort from Brunt. The West Brom defence stood up well to the challenge though, as a concerted spell of pressure from both wings bore no fruit for the home team. Ashley Young missed a golden chance to make a second telling contribution to the game when a cross from Valencia rolled straight to Young, who failed to make clean contact with his swinging boot. The addition of Lukaku to West Brom’s line-up added a bit of zing to their game, and Gareth McAuley nearly scored at the right end from a corner when he headed his effort against the cross bar; although it wouldn’t have counted with McAuley fouling Smalling in the process.
The pressure from Norwich continued to build, but United did well to maintain their shape in font of goal, reducing West Brom to attempts from distance that were almost inevitable blocked away. United substitute Robin van Persie nearly found the goal to calm their nerves, but was denied by a decent save from Foster. All of West Brom’s pressure continued to be from range and United made them pay with their second last-minute goal in two games, as Robin van Persie curled in his 14th league goal of the season. A great effort from Young was well saved by Foster, but the ‘keeper was out of luck when the corner made its way to the Dutchman after a blocked Scholes effort, and was put into the back of the net to double United’s lead. Thus, it was that a spirited West Brom side were seen away by the Red Devils, who maintained their seven point lead at the top with a rare clean sheet to boast of as well.
Result: Manchester United (Gareth McAuley (OG) 9′, Robin van Persie 90′) 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion