Manchester United 1, West Brom 2
The stats wizards were doing overtime after David Moyes’ first defeat at Old Trafford as Manchester United manager, and this was against a team known for getting five managers the sack in the last three years after defeats against them.
There is no prospect of the United board acting so rashly but a Barclays Premier League return of just seven points out of a possible 18 and languishing in 12th place represents United’s worst start in 25 years and the pressure will be on for Moyes after his second Premier League defeat in a row and West Brom’s first win at Old Trafford since 1978.
Moyes admitted that United had been poor but denied that the wholesale changes had a part to play.
“There was no question that West Brom deserved their victory today. It was a poor result and a poor performance and we never really got going. We had a lot of ball in the first half but we didn’t create enough chances and didn’t finish the ones that we did. They always looked a threat.
“We wanted to keep the momentum going from the Liverpool game. We opened up the game enough and there were signs that we would go on but it never really led to anything.
“I’m concerned after today’s performance but only because we didn’t play well. There’s a lot of games to go and I’ll try to put it right.
“We had a lot of forward players out there today but we’re not opening up teams the way we’d like. We’ll try and do that better.
“Today I thought we missed that real spark to make things happen.”
Shinji Kagawa was taken off at half time for youngster Adnan Januzaj and Moyes said it was purely a tactical move.
“I wanted to see if Adnan could give us something different. I watched him play last week and he played well.
“We want Shinji to feel he’s getting the opportunity to do what he can do.
“His best position may be the number 10. He plays on the left for Japan just like did is for us today but there’s a lot of competition here and we want to use that competition to improve the squad.”
Moyes went on to claim that United’s squad were capable of taking on the challenges ahead.
“I don’t think we have one best team. I think we have lots of teams here at Manchester United. We changed the team last week and I wanted to give the bulk of them the chance to do it again.
“I’ll get to know them a lot better the more I see of them.”
Wayne Rooney’s equalising goal from a fine free kick did little to dispel the fact that West Brom fully deserved their win, with goals from Morgan Amalfitano and England U21 international Saido Berahino just reward for a hard working performance by the visitors after the home side failed raise their game at the end as previous United teams have done.
Moyes was ruthless in swinging the axe over most of the players who started the ill-fated derby surrender at the Etihad last week.
Kagawa, Nani, Javier Hernandez, Phil Jones, Alexander Buttner, and Jonny Evans played in the subsequent 1-0 victory over Liverpool in midweek and kept their places for the visit of West Brom. They were joined by Anderson in midfield making it seven changes in all from last Sunday.
Only David De Gea, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney (captain once again in the absence of Nemanja Vidic), made the cut while Robin Van Persie returned from a groin injury and the exciting Adnan Januzaj were named on the bench.
Moyes’ tactical gamble with wholesale changes had little effect on the performance, unfortunately, as a Rio Ferdinand, a survivor from the Etihad massacre, was responsible for letting the Baggies steal a march on a lethargic looking United.
A flat first half should have seen the Baggies take the lead after livewire sub Saido Berahino, on for injured winger Scott Sinclair, headed wide with the goal at his mercy on the half hour.
United’s most inventive attacks sporadically came down their left side where Kagawa tried to inject some verve into a very static side, providing Anderson with a headed chance that hit the bar towards the end of the first half.
The Japanese playmaker was replaced at half time by Adnan Januzaj as Moyes tried to mix things up but it was the Baggies who gave the game the wake-up call it needed when they opened the scoring in the 54th minute though Amalfitano. Buttner didn’t track back after a United attack broke down, allowing the Baggies midfielder to raid down United’s unprotected left flank. Ferdinand was comprehensively beaten and De Gea committed himself early allowing the Frenchman time to lob the Spaniard after being put through by Youssouf Mulumbu.
Rooney levelled matters just three minutes later with a curling free kick after Buttner was brought down by Gareth McAuley to the left side of the West Brom area.
By that time Van Persie had been brought on but United continued to stumble against an organised Baggies side who continued to press United. Amalfitano’s cross allowed Jonas Olsson to head the ball against the bar, and the Frenchman forced De Gea into a fingertip save from a free kick before he laid on a chance for early substitute Saido Berahino’s vicious low shot to beat De Gea in the 68th minute.
Stung into action, and with the inevitable taunts of “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” from West Brom fans ringing around Old Trafford, Marouane Fellaini was introduced and he could have levelled the game again late on but his conversion of Nani’s cross was chalked off for offside while Boaz Myhill acrobatically punched another Rooney free kick out.
United sides in the past would have laid siege to the opposition goal but West Brom found it relatively easy to hang on to inflict a third Premier League defeat in three matches for Moyes.