Manchester United were brought back down to earth after the high-octane drama of the Manchester derby as the Reds were stunningly beaten at Old Trafford by relegation favourites West Bromwich Albion.
Jose Mourinho’s men had deliciously put the brakes on Manchester City’s crowning as the 2017/18 Premier League champions last Saturday at the Etihad Stadium but, against the almost doomed Albion, they handed the title to the Blues, with Jay Rodriguez scoring the winner.
Old Trafford was numb after this disappointing defeat so soon after the delights of the derby triumph. Few would have predicted this. After the thrills of United’s sensational second-half comeback in the derby it was a more sedate start by the Reds against the Premier League’s bottom club.
David De Gea was worked in that slow opening. After Ander Herrera was dispossessed in the 11th minute, Albion broke and the counter-attack saw Jake Livermore attempt to curl in a low shot past De Gea. The Spaniard, as so often, was equal to the effort as he got down to get his left glove on the attempt to steer it away from goal.
United finally settled and appealed for an 18th minute penalty when Herrera appeared to be up-ended by Craig Dawson. Referee Paul Tierney, officiating at Old Trafford for the first time, was having none of it. Replays suggested Herrera certainly had a strong case.
Former goalkeeper Ben Foster, who left the club for Albion in 2012, twice denied United in the matter of seconds and never used his hands once! His first stop was via his face as a Romelu Lukaku stab struck him, the rebound fell to Alexis Sanchez and his effort was kept out by Foster’s left leg. United’s threat disappointingly petered out and allowed West Brom to recover.
There were a few hearts in mouths in the 42nd minute when a deep Albion corner saw Dawson steal onto the set-piece at the far post. But the angle narrowed and he chose to head back across goal rather than have a go. The Stretford End breathed a sigh of relief as his set up was cleared.
Mourinho sought to add a more attacking option for the second half by bringing Jesse Lingard on and dismantling his derby engine room by taking Herrera off at the interval. The switch almost paid immediate dividends with Lingard’s shot a minute after the restart being blocked as the visitors desperately defended.
The tempo was still too languid for the United boss and, after 58 minutes, that derby midfield was further broken up when Paul Pogba, the two-goal hero at the Etihad, was taken off and replaced by Anthony Martial.
Reds striker Lukaku had a season on loan at West Brom in 2012-13 and he was denied an opener in the 66th minute by his former Hawthorns colleague Foster. It looked like Lukaku’s powered header from Nemanja Matic’s cross was destined for a goal until Foster did a more than passable impression of De Gea with a reflex stop to keep his goal intact.
Mourinho had just signalled Marcus Rashford to come to the bench to take off his tracksuit in a final throw of the dice when West Brom took a shock 73rd minute lead. Matic was involved in an aerial struggle at the far post with Dawson as they contested a corner and the Serb was forced to knock his header back into the danger area. It was a gift for Rodriguez who stole in and stooped to head home.
Rashford was on soon after for Ashley Young as United sought to comeback yet again in a game. There was no late dramatic theatre on this occasion as nothing would come off for the subdued Reds and the Baggies held on for an unexpected first league win since January.
United: De Gea; Valencia (C), Lindelof, Smalling, Young (Rashford 75); Matic; Pogba (Martial 58); Herrera (Lingard 45); Mata; Alexis, Lukaku.
Subs not used: J. Pereira, Jones, Rojo, McTominay.
West Brom: Foster, Nyom, Dawson, Hegazi, Gibbs, Phillips (Krychowiak 77), Livermore, Brunt (Yacob 90), McClean, Rodriguez, Rondon (Sturridge 85).
Subs not used: Myhill, Gabr, Burke, Field.
United need a good Wembley warm-up at Bournemouth. United’s credentials as big-game hunters is unquestionable having beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and City recently and that bodes well for the FA Cup semi-final date on Saturday at Wembley against Spurs. Wednesday’s league match at Bournemouth has a more Category B look about it but United cannot afford to go to London next weekend without some impetus after this shock loss.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UNITED?
United travel to the Vitality Stadium on the south coast to play Bournemouth on Wednesday April 18 in the Premier League re-arranged fixture. Kick-off is at 19.45 BST.