Mark the day that Manchester United secure their first home win of the league season. That it was in mid November was of course an aberration of the delayed season. Yet no pandemic can mitigate the fact that they have only scored three in the Premier League at Old Trafford and conceded ten.
The long-awaited victory will not linger long in the memory, achieved in an the eerie emptiness of Old Trafford where the only sound was often the exasperated roar of Slaven Bilic bemoaning his side’s luck. The best that can be said for United was that they grasped the three points and that, in the second half at least, they created more opportunities.
And that they have Bruno Fernandes. Even if he was responsible for the moment when they probably should have conceded a penalty, he also pretty much dragged his team over the line here. For United owed much to the marginal decision of ref David Coote to change his mind on that West Brom penalty, which would have given the struggling visitors the lead.
Bruno Fernandes scored his third penalty of the season to hand a sluggish Manchester United victory against West Brom
The Portuguese playmaker was able to keep his composure and convert the spot kick beyond the impressive Sam Johnstone
Fernandes saw his initial effort from 12 yards clawed out by Johnstone, only for a retake to be given with the keeper off his line
They got away with that and eventually would secure the points with a retaken Fernandes penalty of their own. But evidence of creative attacking patterns to break down a resolute defence was in scant supply. They remain a team best suited to counter attack and a little bewildered when asked to seize the initiative. Another day, they might have dropped points here, with West Brom impressive and sprightly in attack. As it was, they did the job but without an enormous amount of conviction.
It’s not that United didn’t have the chances in that opening half. It’s just they never look wholly convinced they’re sure what they’re doing. And when the chances do come, they seem so surprised, that invariably they snatch at them
Harry Maguire was a little unfortunate to be denied by a fine save from Sam Johnstone, returning to Old Trafford, where he started his career. But if United do have a plan, it doesn’t go much beyond giving it to Fernandes.
Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Telles, Matic, Fred (McTominay 84), Mata (Cavani 63), Fernandes, Rashford (van de Beek 79), Martial
Subs not used: James, Henderson, Williams, Tuanzebe
Goals: Fernandes 56
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
West Brom: Johnstone, Furlong, Ajayi, Bartley, Ivanovic (Krovinovic 79), Townsend, Pereira, Sawyers, Gallagher, Diangana (Robson-Kanu 62), Grant (Robinson 62)
Subs not used: Phillips, Harper, Button, O’Shea
Manager: Slaven Bilic
West Brom were awarded a spot kick with Fernandes, soon the hero at the other end, judged to have felled Connor Gallagher
The decision was promptly overruled, however, with David Coote rescinding the spot kick after checking his VAR monitor
Slaven Bilic kicked a drinks can in anger with his dogged team finding themselves on the wrong end of decisive officiating
He bestrides Old Trafford, dominating yet unable to connect with team-mates. And against a well coached, determined team, it’s not really enough. He can’t do it all alone.
On 13 minutes he fed Martial sprinting down the right, but the Frenchman pulled the ball back behind Marcus Rashford.
The chance of the half came on 16 minutes when Maguire stepped out of the back four and strode upfield, releasing Rashford. His crossfield ball was touched back to Martial by Fernandes. With just Johnstone to beat, eight yards out, Martial shot tamely at the keeper, who pushed the shot away.
If you were confident a raft of chances would follow, then it wouldn’t be such an egregious miss. But it was followed by a long period turgidity from United.
David de Gea prevented the visitors from edging into the lead after sharply using his left leg to deflect away Townsend’s shot
Anthony Martial had endured a frustrating evening at Old Trafford once again and his appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears
West Brom posed a threat and went close in the first half when Karlan Grant’s powerful shot deflected just wide of the far post
They can dominate possession without ever feeling like they are about to overpower teams.
That wasn’t the entire story. For West Brom’s three-man midfield of Romaine Sawyers, Conor Gallagher and Mattheus Pereira were snapping at their oppoents, disrupting their rhythm and attacking with alacrity when permitted.
Hence on 29 minutes Pereira played in Karlan Grant, whose shot off the heel of LIndelof was touched away by David De Gea. The resulting corner saw Branislav Ivanovic climb clear of the United defence but head wide.
The best United could manage by way of riposte was a Maguire striker from a corner which struck Kyle Bartley clean in the face.
Johnstone was forced into action on several occasions and swiped the ball away from Martial with the striker ready to pounce
Kyle Bartley bore the full brunt of Harry Maguire’s searing strike from close range but the centre back was able to continue
Edinson Cavani was thrown on as a substitute late on with United looking to score a second and kill off any lingering nerves
Fernandes tangled with Bartley in the first half as United tried to carve out the breakthrough against the stubborn visitors
Yet West Brom would go close again on 41 minutes, when, from Gallagher’s corner, Bartley’s header went just over and bounced off the top of the net.Nothing in that mediocre first half, could quite prepare us for the plethora of drama and controversy in the opening ten minutes of the second half, which had Slaven Bilic at his most exasperated and incredulous, which in itself is a furore loud enough to fill an empty Old Trafford.
Within 50 seconds of the restart, United’s vulnerability was exposed with Karlan Grant getting beyond Maguire and brought about the danger. Touching the ball into Gallagher, who was inside the box, induced a kind of panic in Fernandes, who swiped at the ball but only really succeeded in felling Gallagher.
Ref David Coote, who had been removed from duties at the Liverpool game today to avoid controversy, immediately awarded a penalty. It seemed pretty clear, but then came the insidious voice of VAR in his ear. Suddenly he was jogging across to check to monitor. And we all know how that always ends.
Sure enough, Coote was changing his mind, seemingly because Fernandes had got the merest touch on the ball as his leg clattered through Gallagher. It seemed a moot point; the tackle was as clumsy as you’ll see. Quite simply, he mistimed it.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan watched on with the hosts looking to earn their long-awaited home win of the season
Bartley was in the thick of the action at the other end and went inches away from opening the scoring with a glancing header
Still, West Brom would have to suck it up. And they almost responded with within a few minutes. From one wing back to another, Darrel Furlong played a superb sweeping ball to the feet of Conor Townsend, who strike from close range look goal-bound until David de Gea stuck out a foot to save.
Within seconds, United broke. Commendably, Furlong was back to defend but as Mata crossed, he raised his gands to concede a clear penalty on 53 minutes. Up stepped Fernandes, who never misses. Deploying his customary skip-before-he-shoots technique, he struck the ball cleanly only to see Johnstone stretching to push it away. Cue celebrations all round until it became clear that the West Brom keeper was a good metre off his line before Fernandes shot.
This was the moment Bilic could hold it in no longer and turned to plead with fourth official Martion Atkinson. Reprieved, Fernandes wouldn’t waste his second chance, which he lifted confidently to his left, high into an unreachable area of the net.
Yet West Brom pressed on. Hal Robson Kanu’s swirling shot from outside the box crashed off the bar on 65 minutes. And when called upon, Johnstonewas ready, saving from Rasshford on 68 minutes and Maguire on 70 minutes.
Alex Telles was handed his first start at Old Trafford after his coronavirus lay-off and threatened with his left-sided overlaps
Bilic had been typically animated inside his technical area and vocally urged his team on in a bid to climb out the drop zone
Sportsmail’s KIERAN JACKSON provided live text coverage of the clash at Old Trafford below…