Oct 18, 2010

United 2 West Brom 2

United were left reflecting on yet more dropped points in the Barclays Premier League as the Reds once again surrendered a position of complete control at 2-0, albeit from a freakish Patrice Evra own goal and a rare Edwin van der Sar error.

An open game was to United’s favour and the Reds looked unstoppable in the first half when Javier Hernandez pounced on Nani’s parried free-kick to put United in front after just five minutes. Nani then turned goal-getter to make it 2-0 and Sir Alex's men were cruising. But a bizarre five minutes early in the second half knocked the Reds off rhythm that not even with Wayne Rooney emerging off the bench could rectify.

With all the attention and focus on Rooney in recent weeks, there was even more fuel for the press when the Reds striker was named on the bench. Sir Alex opted for the in-form Dimitar Berbatov and the livewire Javier Hernandez. And there’s no arguing that their attributes compliment each other.

The decision to start Chicharito paid dividends almost instantly when, after five minutes, he won a free-kick 30 yards out. Nani took it and his shot dipped and swerved so much that Scott Carson could only parry the effort. Hernandez has lightning fast reactions and he was first to pounce and found the net. His first league start at Old Trafford, and his first goal here, right in front of the Stretford End.

With two passing, attacking sides, the match was unsurprisingly open. And other than an occasional early tendency to concede possession, United looked good in attack. Berbatov was inches away from scoring the Reds’ second just before the 15-minute mark with a curling effort from 20 yards, while Hernandez – buoyed by his goal – looked effervescent up front.

United’s passing became sharper with time, the attacking play ever more penetrative. Berbatov had an even better opportunity to score the second goal after 22 minutes. Carrick’s low cross from the right had the goal at the Bulgarian’s mercy, but he scuffed his effort wide. Three minutes later the wait ended, although Berbatov had to settle for a supporting role. Nani capitalised on Nick Shorey’s stumble in possession, charged at the West Brom defence before playing a one-two with Berbatov and neatly finishing the move off with his left foot.

Straight after the restart, United went in search of a third goal and Nani was once again at the centre of the action. The Reds won a corner after Hernandez’s header from Rafael’s deep cross was deflected wide. After the initial centre was headed clear, Nani twisted and turned to make space on the left and pitched up an inviting cross, which Vidic headed against the base of the post.

But it was West Brom who got the half’s opening goal five minutes in when Chris Brunt fired in a free-kick from a tight angle. It took a deflection off Evra and van der Sar was unable to prevent it crossing the line. Then, astonishingly five minutes later, West Brom drew level when van der Sar spilled Brunt’s hooked left-wing cross and Somen Tchoyi tapped in a simple finish at the far post. United went from total control to out of control in a mad few minutes.

The fans immediately called for Rooney to be summoned from the bench, and Sir Alex did so, in a double substitution with Scholes on for Anderson and Carrick. Rooney lined up on the left flank and had his first shot at goal in strange circumstances. Carson was penalised for catching what referee Mike Jones deemed a back-pass from Gonzalo Jara. Nani teed Rooney up from the indirect free-kick 12 yards out, but Wayne's shot was well blocked. And United would not be able to find a way through in a frustrating final quarter of the game.

Roberto Di Matteo’s side should be commended for not adopting the usual template of shutting up shop at Old Trafford, even if it looked like being their undoing. The concern for United is more leaked goals, a problem we thought had been eradicated, and more dropped points - a trend that has now passed from worrying to damaging. Although West Brom’s first goal could happen at any time in any game, United didn’t react well, looked on edge, and the second goal was the punishment for it.

As with other similar outcomes this season, large parts of United’s performance were good. This isn’t a bad team, far from it. But lapses are being punished, and luck is very much against the Reds at present.

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