WEST BROM 0, MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Headed goals by Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney and a classic Manchester United passing move finished by Danny Welbeck polished off a West Brom side who were undone by slack marking but both sides were baffled by some strange refereeing decisions by Jon Moss including a controversial incident early in the second half which home fans felt should have seen Robin Van Persie sent off for a second bookable offence.
Victory put United up into 6th place on goal difference above Everton who were playing in the FA Cup this weekend.
After the unexpected defeat to Olympiacos in the Champions League, United were on a mission to recover some pride after almost two weeks without a game and a run of just one win in five in February. They were well supported by fans who had been sent a letter by David Moyes thanking them for their support.
Moyes made five changes to the side that lost 2-0 in Greece, with Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini, Rafael, and Phil Jones coming in; and Antonio Valencia, Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young, Rio Ferdinand and departing captain Nemanja Vidic out.
Moyes was pleased with United’s performance, especially with his central defensive pairing of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
He said: “We had to scrap at times. The pitch was very lively, drying out a bit, and it wasn’t easy to pass the ball on it.
“Both defenders played really well today. I am told Chris Smalling played really well for England too.”
Moyes admitted he had taken Van Persie off to protect him from a possible sending off but denied that he should have been sent off for a second booking.
“I was concerned about a second yellow but I didn’t think the second tackle was a booking – it was a foul.
“I couldn’t take the chance in case Robin slipped or fell.
“We have tough games coming up, and we’ll try an show that we’re a good side.”
United’s bid to claw back some pride wasn’t dented by some strange refereeing decisions from Jon Moss amidst a mixed performance by former United ‘keeper Ben Foster in the Baggies’ goal.
Van Persie could have been shown his marching orders early in the second half for a second successive yellow card after a sliding tackle on Steven Reid had quickly followed a rash tackle on Morgan Amalfitano. The Dutchman was swiftly replaced with Danny Welbeck by David Moyes to protect him from any further action.
Moss had earlier given a booking to Januzaj for handling a through ball by Mata but the Baggies fans were vocally aggrieved by the injustice in the second half.
Foster showed his quality in the 28th minute to tip Rafael’s header onto the bar after Januzaj’s cross seemed perfectly placed for the Brazilian to finish.
Foster could have been heavily punished after seeming to handle the ball outside of his own area later in the first half after Mata’s poor through ball that looked set to be cleared by the England man. The West Brom ‘keeper inexplicably missed his clearance kick and had left his area as the ball bounced up and hit his hand but referee Jon Moss chose to let him off for accidental contact as Van Persie appealed for what might well had been a red card as the ball would have fallen perfectly for the United striker to finish into an empty net.
Thankfully, United had already gone 1-0 up thanks to Phil Jones’ 34th minute header from Van Persie’s free kick – his third goal of the season. The defence was nonexistent as Jones’ effort flashed in past Foster.
Claudio Yacob could have headed the equaliser for the Baggies minutes later but Rooney got back to put the big defender off and his subsequent effort came off his shoulder and harmlessly over the bar.
Baggies striker Victor Anichebe could have haunted his former Everton boss after he held off Jones to turn and shoot just past the far post in the early stages but he was generally off target throughout the match, lacking support from his team mates, and spurned what few chances came his way. His afternoon ended with a booking for a heated attempt to win the ball off Welbeck.
Zoltan Gera also had chances to get the Baggies back into the game, first going down easily to try and win a penalty but also having two second half near post shots saved by De Gea when put through.
Rooney made it 2-0 in the 65th minute when Rafael’s inviting cross was dispatched by the England striker who was again untroubled by the home defence.
Welbeck gave the scoreline some gloss in the 82nd minute after United finally reached their best after a lengthy passing move ended with Rooney slipping the ball to his fellow frontman who beat Foster with a shot inside the far post from the left side.