There have only been two occasions in Manchester United’s illustrious history when they have failed to win any of their opening five home matches of a league season. Fortunately for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, his side managed to avoid making it an ignominious third but only after a retaken penalty ended a near five and a half hour league goal drought at Old Trafford and West Bromwich Albion had a penalty award of their own controversially overturned.
Bruno Fernandes’s initial penalty had been saved by Sam Johnstone but the West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper and former United trainee was off his line as he dived down low to his left to keep the ball out and, as such, the Portugal midfielder was presented with an opportunity to atone. Much as he had done in similar circumstances against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last month, Fernandes made no mistake from his second attempt.
It was not the only penalty drama involving Fernandes on the night, though – or one that West Brom came out worse off from. Conor Gallagher thought he had won his side a penalty after tumbling under a challenge from Fernandes. David Coote pointed to the penalty spot but, from the subsequent VAR review, the referee trundled over to the pitchside monitor to look at the incident again and overturned his decision. Already dismayed that United’s penalty had been allowed to stand after a foul by Fred on Gallagher before Darnell Furlong handled Juan Mata’s cross, Slaven Bilic struggled to conceal his anger at Coote’s decision to renege on his original call.
“I’m really disappointed with the decision,” Bilic said. “Throughout the whole of the second half, I felt like a small West Brom. All those crucial decisions went against us. I’ve watched it a few times now and for me it’s a clear penalty on Conor Gallagher. I don’t understand why he overturned that.
“Their penalty, it’s a handball, it’s a bit unlucky but under the new rules, it’s handball. But before the handball it was a clear foul on Conor Gallagher. So instead of 1-0 for us, it’s 1-0 for them and against Man United away it’s a huge difference, it’s crucial, it’s game over.”
Even Solskjaer admitted United had been fortunate West Brom’s penalty was overturned. “We may be a tad lucky but maybe the rules are different to how I interpret them,” the United manager said.
Victory moved United into ninth, above Manchester City, while West Brom remain marooned in the bottom three without a win after nine games. Yet while Bilic’s side were indebted in part to Johnstone, who made good saves to deny Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire, and United’s wastefulness, they deserved something from the game.
United have scored just once from open play at Old Trafford in the league this term – in their opening defeat to Crystal Palace – and Fernandes’ penalty was their first home goal in the competition for five hours and 24 minutes since his spot-kick against Spurs, after which the floodgates opened. That 6-1 trouncing really seems to have scarred United, certainly at home.
Given how West Brom cut through them on occasion, Solskjaer may argue that he was right to start with two defensive minded midfielders in Fred and Nemanja Matic but this felt like an occasion when United should have let loose. Instead, after Martial missed an excellent chance to open the scoring in the 16th minute after a fine move on the turnover, United struggled for any real rhythm in attack and the game followed a familiar pattern. It just looks hard work for this team going forward at times.
“It’s important to get the first win at home, a lot has been about it, written about it and you could see at the end we were a bit edgy,” Solskjaer said. “We should have probably scored a couple more to make it an easier finish but at 1-0 you’re never sure and it’s a tight call both ways.
“The league this season is going to be ups and downs, and inconsistent, unpredictable, we’ve seen some results today. The league is not really settling. It’s very tight. Points are more important than performances sometimes.”
It would have been interesting to see how United had reacted had Coote stood by his original penalty award. Karlan Grant had got round the outside of Maguire, darted forward and slipped the ball to Gallagher, who dropped to the ground under a challenge from Fernandes. The latter got the ball first but also the man and protested forcibly to Coote after the referee pointed to the spot. Was that in Coote’s mind when he went to review the decision? Perhaps, but it was a big call all the same.
West Brom were undeterred, though, and should have taken the lead soon after. Furlong’s cross sailed unchallenged from right to left, all the way into the feet of Conor Townsend, who had just David De Gea to beat. It was a glorious chance and, while he struck his shot well, it was close enough to the United goalkeeper to save with his outstretched left boot.
A vital intervention and one West Brom would have added cause to bemoan moments later when United headed down the other end and Mata’s intended cross was handled by Furlong. The West Brom defender was looking away from the ball and did not know much about it – similar, really, to the penalty Joe Gomez conceded for Liverpool against Manchester City this month – but under the current rules it was the right decision. That said, Fred had fouled Gallagher in the build-up – an infringement both Coote and VAR missed.
Fernandes was relieved to get a second bite at the cherry after Johnstone saved his first penalty. West Brom kept coming, though, and very nearly equalised, in no small part thanks to Bilic’s two substitute, Hal Robson-Kanu and Callum Robinson. Robson-Kanu turned neatly in the middle and sprayed a pass out to Gallagher, who laid the ball off to Robinson. His shot whistled over De Gea but cannoned back off the crossbar. Yet more misfortune for the visiting side.
FT: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
United record their first home league win of the season and go above Man City. The less said about the performance the better though. West Brom will curse their luck after having a penalty overturned and watching Fernandes convert a re-taken spot kick.
92 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
Outstanding block from Furlong to deny Martial but United have a corner and inch closer to the finish line.
90 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
There will be four minutes of stoppage time. While there is still a one-goal deficit there is hope for West Brom.
88 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
Bilic is up out of his technical area trying to urge his team forward and they do have good possession. United dropping off and defending their own defensive third. Martial then leads the counter and wins a foul from Ajayi.
86 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
Both teams looking shattered now, but United get the chance to breathe on the ball. They give it away again though, before Gallgher goes down looking for a foul. Bartley then wins a big tackle to stop the United break.
83 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
Cavani and Martial fail to link up and West Brom get then chance to throw numbers forward. But then Furlong trips up over his own feet and gifts United a goal kick. McTominay is about to replace Fred.
80 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
Van De Beek on now for United, replacing Mata whose race was run. The game has gone into a bit of a lull with neither side creating a chance of note.
75 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
United had numbers on the counter there but overplayed, eventually passing to Fernandes at the edge of the box whose shot was charged down. Fernandes then looks for Rashford over the top, who did not quite take the ball in his stride.
73 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
Good work from Ajayi to drive forward, lose it, and then chase back to pinch the ball off Matic. Moments earlier Cavani made a dart into the box and his shot was blocked.
71 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
West Brom a little more open now, and Rashford plays a cross off a defender’s shin for a corner. Cavni flicks it on at the near post and the ball drops for Maguire at the back stick, who struck his shot into the ground and Johnstone makes another stop.
68 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
More heroics from Johnstone. Fernandes fed a pass that trickled all the way to Rashford at the far post, he worked a yard to try and pass the ball into the far corner but the West Brom ‘keeper got fingertips to it.
65 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
What a stunning introduction to the game from Robinson. Gallagher leading the West Brom charge again, he sets the pass back to Robinson who goes for the curler from the left corner of the box, around 25 yards out, and the ball cannons off the bar with De Gea beaten.
62 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
Both teams make changes. Robinson and Robson-Kanu on for West Brom while Cavani replaces Mata.
58 minutes: Man Utd 1 West Brom 0
What a crazy, incident-packed start to the half. West Brom should probably be a goal up but find themselves a goal down. United still look a little under par and suddenly quite ragged at the back.
This time he goes to Johnstone’s right and fires it past him. According to the letter of the law Coote was right to instruct Fernandes to retake it but in the circumstances…West Brom will be fuming.
West Brom will feel justice is done as Johnstone makes a brilliant save to his left….but hold on! Var’s verdict is that he jumped off his line before making the save. The penalty will be RETAKEN!
Furlong penalised for handball. The ball struck his hand, but the defender had turned his back. It was Mata’s cross that struck him. Will fuel the sense of injustice.
53 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
ANOTHER huge chance for West Brom! Brilliant from De Gea to save with an outstretched leg with Townsend free at the back post.
49 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
An exciting start to the half – Rashford lets fly from distance and Johnstone tips it around the post.
Var overturns it: No penalty!
David Coote has judged that Fernandes got a faint touch on the ball. Peter Walton is surprised the decision was overturned. West Brom can feel aggrieved there.
PENALTY WEST BROM!
Well, well. West Brom get in behind Maguire and for a moment it looked like he might give a penalty away on Grant, but the West Brom forward stayed up and picked out Gallgher with a pass. Fernandes was scrambling back and looked to wrap him on the shin.
The referee is looking at the monitor…it was hard to see if Fernandes got a nick on the ball before touching Gallagher. Marginal.
We’re back under way
Neither manager has made a change but United need to show more intensity in this half.
HT: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
United will point to two good saves from Johnstone, both from Martial, as evidence that they should be in front but in truth the standard of their general play has not been good enough.
45 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
United trying to turn the screw but West Brom standing firm. There will be just one minuted of added time.
44 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Wan Bissaka gets in down the right after a scoop over the top from Fernandes. Mata runs towards the near post and lets the cross go before Furlong hammers it clear. West Brom mess up the chance to break with a mis-placed pass and United have it back.
42 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Good play from Gallagher, thrusting forward from West Brom’s midfield, and then Diangana’s shot is deflected behind for a corner. West Brom send their three centre-halves up…and Bartley wins it but his flicked header lands on the roof of the net.
38 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
United are starting to sustain attacks with more ease now, West Brom have stopped keeping the ball. Ivanovic up against his old Chelsea team-mate Mata, and does well not to give a penalty away, then a pass towards Wan-Bissaka is too heavy.
36 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Quick feet from Martial to evade a few West Brom tackles and his shot from 25 yards or so deflects behind for a corner. These are big moments for West Brom who have done so well up until now…Maguire looked to have shoved Ivanovic before belting a shot straight in Bartley’s mush from point-blank range. Fortunately, the West Brom defender is back on his feet.
33 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
That was very nearly the pass of the season from Fernandes, sliced across it with the outside of his foot to pick out Mata at the back post but Townsend got back in to make a nuisance of himself and Johnstone claims. Almost a moment of magic.
30 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Fernandes angry with himself for mis-placing an attempted through ball. That rather sums up United’s performance so far. Martial’s shirt was being pulled on that penalty appeal, but it was too slight.
26 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Good reverse pass from Mata to Martial down the right and United sutatin the attack…Martial then goes down in the area looking for a penalty and Var is taking a look at it. It seemed that the United striker went down easily…check complete, no penalty.
24 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
West Brom growing in confidence and starting to inch up the pitch, which could suit United. It has not been great from the home team, but nevertheless Johnstone has still needed to make two good saves.
21 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Good chance that for West Brom – Pereira slips a good pass between Maguire and Lindelof for a diagonal run in behind from Grant, whose shot clipped off the heel of Lindelof just wide of the post. United clear the corner.
20 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
West Brom competing well in midfield, not United’s strongest department it must be said, and seeing a fair bit of the ball in the last few minutes. Townsend provides a dangerous overlap from left-wing back but the ball just runs out of play for a goal kick.
17 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
United getting closer. After a good spell of West Brom possession Ajayi played the ball straight to Maguire who fed Rashford on the counter-attack. He picked out Fernandes who was all alone in the box, and he teed up Martial with a first-time lay off. Martial directed his shot on target but Johnstone got down well to his left to keep it out.
14 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
That was United’s best move of the game. Fernandes slipped a pass down the gully between the wide centre-back and wing back for Martial, and he feeds a dangerous ball across the penalty area which Furling did well to clear at the back post.
12 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Fred goes down looking for a free-kick on halfway – referee is having none of it – but then Fernandes does win a foul from Pereira. Sloppy from Matic to gift the ball back West Brom.
10 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Rashford tried to float a cross in for Fernandes but there was too much on it and West Brom have a goal kick. Mata wants too many touches on the right wing and Diangana sticks to his task well. Ajayi then nips in to win the ball ahead of Rashford.
West Brom get the chance to enjoy some possession in the United half but the move breaks down with Grant.
7 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Gallagher tries to harry Matic into a mistake but the United midfielder kept his head and the home team keep the ball. There were positives in West Brom’s showing against Spurs and they are looking to build on that here. No real alarms in open play so far.
5 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Rashford operating from the left in the early minutes and will be supported on that flank by Telles. Not much rhythm about the home team in possession at the moment.
2 minutes: Man Utd 0 West Brom 0
Looks to me like West Brom are shaping up in a 5-3-2 with Grant and Diangana up top. Bartley, Ivanovic and Ajayi as the three centre-backs. Bartley gives away a foul on the right and it nearly proves costly: Martial won a flicked header at the near post and Johnstone made a diving save to his right to claw it away.
United get us started and are kicking towards the empty Stretford End in the first half.
The teams are on their way out
United’s players are wearing black armbands for the late Albert Quixall.
MUTV say Pogba is out with a knock
Is there enough creativity in that United midfield? Mata was excellent at Newcastle in that roving role from the right.
The two teams the old fashioned way
Man Utd: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Alex Telles, Matic, Mata, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Martial, Rashford
West Brom: Johnstone, Furlong, Bartley, Ivanovic, Ajayi, Townsend, Gallagher, Sawyers, Diangana, Pereira, Grant
What an incentive for United
Man City have just lost at Spurs so United can jump above them in the table if they take all three points tonight. That is quite remarkable given the doom and gloom around the club in the last few months.
Pogba was not spotted at the team hotel this afternoon so bis absence is not a surprise. What is a surprise is the inclusion of Matic over McTominay.
Can United put an end to their wretched home form?
The vultures were circling around Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United before their trip to Everton, but they managed to pull a result out of the fire and Solskjaer needs that game to be a line in the sand.
United are yet to win a Premier League game at Old Trafford this season, failing to score against Chelsea and Arsenal, and they will not get many more presentable chances than a fixture against West Bromwich Albion. Slaven Bilic’s team have scored one goal in their last five league games, have the lowest expected goals tally in the league and the second-highest expected goals conceded total. Not the ideal combination, then.
Solskjaer is hopeful of having Marcus Rashford fit despite reports of a shoulder injury troubling him. Alex Telles could be available, but Victor Lindelof’s ongoing back problem and Mason Greenwood’s recent illness puts their involvement in doubt. All eyes will be on what Solskjaer does in central midfield, with Paul Pogba and Donny van De Beek struggling to nail down regular spots. A brief flirtation with a midfield diamond looks to have been abandoned.
West Brom have some Covid-19 absences to contend with, including their key creative outlet last season Matheus Pereira. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement though, West Brom have recorded three wins at Old Trafford.
“As a club, recently, we’ve been doing really good at Old Trafford.” Bilic said. “Last four or five times. I have a pretty good record, considering it’s Man United, with West Ham.
“Every game is difficult, especially for us because we’re newcomers. But this is still Man United away. If you see their roster, it’s massive.
“It’s also a big opportunity for us, but first we have to do what we did against Spurs and against a few others – to make it hard, to try and penetrate, to keep the ball, to be resilient, to have numbers behind the ball when needed and to keep them far from our box.
“That’s our plan, whoever we play against. We know what they have in their locker. We know they have pace, quality, they can score from midfield.
“We have to be on top of our game, but we’re ready.”
Team news on the way shortly.
Source: The Telegraph Travels