Man United edge past West Brom, but not without a scare
Romelu Lukaku netted again to set United on their way before late West Brom fightback
Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku scores his side’s first goal during their Premier League win over West Bromwich Albion. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
West Bromwich Albion 1 Manchester United 2
The chase feels forlorn, and it must be even more dispiriting for Manchester United when they play the day after their neighbours have turned in yet another stirring performance, but José Mourinho and his players can at least take some satisfaction from the fact they managed to trim the deficit at the top back to 11 points.
Romelu Lukaku, taking his Premier League tally for the season into double figures, and Jesse Lingard got the goals on an afternoon that ended up being nothing like as comfortable as it should have been for United. Mourinho’s side were 2-0 up and strolling to victory when Albion punished their complacency by snatching a late goal through Gareth Barry that set up a tense finale.
United weathered the late Albion storm and held on for a third successive Premier League away win, lifting them three points above Chelsea. The bad news for United is that they may have to cope without Antonio Valencia for a while after the right-back pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury midway through the second half.
As for Albion, they will take heart from their second-half performance and a crumb of comfort from the fact that they have scored the first goal of Alan Pardew’s reign, but the league table makes for bleak reading. They are second from bottom and have now gone 17 matches without winning in all competitions.
It had been hard to see a way back for them when United scored their first, just before the half-hour mark, never mind the second eight minutes later. Pardew’s game-plan was based around trying to contain United and hit them on the counter-attack, but those tactics were never going to work from the moment that Lukaku opened the scoring with a goal that was so simple in its execution.
Marcus Rashford, hugging the left touchline, shifted the ball on to his right foot after picking up possession from Juan Mata and delivered an excellent inswinging cross that Lukaku, towering above Kieran Gibbs at the far post, headed emphatically beyond Ben Foster and into the top corner. It was a fine header from Lukaku and gave Foster no chance, but questions will be asked in the Albion dressing room as to how Gibbs, the full-back, was left picking up the Belgian in a contest that was a total mismatch and only ever going to end one way.
Although that was the first effort on target that either team had produced in a subdued opening period, United had been dominating possession up until that point and quickly tightened their grip on the game with Lingard’s goal. There was an element of good fortune about it as Ahmed Hegazi, the Albion central defender, stuck out his left boot to try to block Lingard’s low shot from the edge of the area, deflecting the ball past Foster, who was left wrong-footed and stranded.
At the other end, Albion were toothless. Pardew had given Oliver Burke his first Premier League start and the winger produced a couple of bursts of pace that offered encouragement, but there was far too big a gap in the first half between Solomón Rondón, the lone striker, and the rest of the team, making it hard for Albion to cause United any problems. It was not until the 44th minute that David de Gea was forced to make a save and on that occasion Jake Livermore had to be talked into shooting by the home supporters.
Early in the second half Rashford and Hegazi were involved in a tete-a-tete after the United player took exception to the Egyptian’s aerial challenge and went down holding his face. Play continued and Rashford, who seemed to overreact to what was something in nothing, ended up getting booked after he pursued Hegazi and the two squared up.
United were cruising and should have added to their lead. Rashford fired narrowly wide and Lingard, darting through the middle after a neat exchange with Lukaku, was guilty of shooting too close to Foster. Finally Albion started to play with a bit more attacking ambition and Rondón ought to have done better when he shot tamely at De Gea after breaking into the inside-left channel.
That should have been a warning for United, yet it went unheeded and in the 77th minute Albion had a lifeline when Barry nudged the ball over the line following a goalmouth scramble. From United’s point of view it was a desperately poor goal to concede as Chris Brunt’s corner bounced off Marcos Rojo and dropped for Barry, no more than three yards out, to turn home. Jay Rodriguez, heading Brunt’s cross just wide, came close to grabbing an equaliser in the closing minutes. – Guardian service