Manchester United 2-2 West Bromwich Albion
Letting two goal leads slip has been the story of the season so far for Manchester United, and it was the same old as West Brom took full advantage to get a well deserved point – worse than the result, and worse than it coming against opposition they would normally expect to roll over, was the terrifying lack of urgency that followed the 70th minute. Javier Hernandez and Nani scored United’s goals, before Somen Tchoyi took full advantage of a howler from van der Sar to equalise after Patrice Evra had diverted a free kick into his own net.
Chicharito was given the nod over Wayne Rooney, and looked lively early on. Just 5 minutes were on the clock when the diminutive Mexican lashed home the rebound after Scott Carson had parried a Nani free kick. Better was to follow – despite a scare where Rafael brilliantly cleared a certain goal off the toes of Chris Brunt – when Nani himself scored, following brilliant build up play with himself and Dimitar Berbatov. Just as well, given the Bulgarian had missed an absolute sitter minutes earlier.
Berbatov had a curling effort just wide, but it was an injury to Ryan Giggs that was to signal the beginning of the end. Giggs pulled up with a hamstring injury just before half time but, with Rooney and Paul Scholes on the bench, Sir Alex Ferguson instead opted for Darron Gibson, moving Anderson left and giving a midfield of Gibson and Carrick. The casual, lead footed pairing may have seemed less of a risk given the advantage, but thinking a result was safe was foolhardy, not least because of West Brom’s recent destruction of Arsenal, at the Emirates. On that occasion the Baggies looked vibrant and ready to pounce on any carelessness and it was commendable that after half time, Roberto Di Matteo regrouped his men and didn’t allow them to drop their heads the way they did at Stamford Bridge on the opening day.
Just after the break, Nemanja Vidic hit the post after good Nani play, but this was a false start to the second half. On the 50th minute, Evra turned a free kick from Brunt past van der Sar. If anyone illustrated the difference between the two sides, it was Chris Brunt. United had clearly lacked any penetration since the removal of Ryan Giggs, while Brunt’s precise delivery and willingness to run straight at the defenders was creating havoc.
It was the Northern Irishman whose cross was horrifically dropped by Edwin van der Sar, allowing Tchoyi to level up with an open goal on 55 minutes. Brunt himself could have completed the turnaround but his shot went wide.
A second half at Old Trafford is normally illuminated with the sight of a fast, slick counter attacking side bombarding the Stretford End, and it was so here, but it was the visitors who looked far more likely to snatch a win. The lack of penetration that the rest of the side were relying on from a 36 year old didn’t come from Nani, who has found a way to translate staggering inconsistency over games into a spell of 90 minutes. How can someone who does something as good as his second goal revert to the frustrating inconsistent, over deliberating winger whose crosses don’t clear the first man that we saw in 2009? Inspiration didn’t come from Anderson, who not for the first time in his career, found himself shifted into an unfamiliar position to cater for other players who are far less talented than himself.
It didn’t come from Carrick and Gibson – it’s been a long bugbear that Carrick fails to impose himself on big games, but when he isn’t in these games, the writing is surely on the wall. Likewise Gibson, who offered nothing when he came on, and was surely saved from being hauled off himself because of Sir Alex’s stubbornness. So it was Anderson and Carrick removed for Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney, neither of whom offered anything of note.
Scholes did at least create space but by this time the damage was done. The slow pace of United’s team was to the clear detriment of Dimitar Berbatov, who had looked lively when the Red Devils had a quick pace in the first half, and shockingly substandard when we needed something in the second. Rooney was shifted wide to allow Chicharito to continue in the middle, a move that benefitted neither, and the minutes dwindled down, with United offering nothing.
Albion posed their own threat, constantly turning the United defenders’ backs to goal, and the lack of protection offered by Gibson meant it was, at times, the proverbial knife through butter job.
There are several ways of looking at the result; a chance lost to draw ground on Chelsea, who drew at Aston Villa, or at least we didn’t fall further behind. And, West Brom have proved themselves to be decent opposition for anyone other than Chelsea. Whichever way you look at it, though, at two up, United should have been able to see the game through. That they let a two goal lead slip for the third time this season – including the throwaway at Fulham – it is clear that this is very clearly a problem now. These issues are normally cleared up with a break, but the international break came and went and United have the same old problems.
There is something wrong that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed soon, or United fans are in for one hell of a tough season.
Ratings : van der Sar 4, Rafael 5, Ferdinand 5, Vidic 5, Evra 5, *Nani 6, Carrick 4 (Scholes), Anderson 6 (Rooney), Giggs 6 (Gibson 4), Berbatov 5, Hernandez 5