Man United left frustrated as West Brom cling on for a point

Harry Maguire denied at the death by a superb save from Sam Johnstone

West Bromwich Albion 1 Manchester United 1

Given the magnitude of the task, a point isn’t much – but it is something. A small step has been taken towards salvation but more important perhaps is the sense that this was something for West Brom to build on. It would still take something extraordinary for them to survive – something that would eclipse the great escape of 2004-05 – but this was a performance to suggest it is not wholly inconceivable.

They will look at the two chances Mbaye Diagne spurned in the final quarter of an hour and wonder what might have been. But then Harry Maguire had a header pushed against the post by Sam Johnstone in injury time, so their point could equally have been snatched from them. For United, a draw at the team second-bottom in the table perhaps doesn’t feel too different to a defeat anyway. With just one win in their last five league games, the prospect of a serious title charge seems increasingly distant.

The summer of 2016 has a lot to answer for. England’s defeat to Iceland, four days after the Brexit referendum, was a game freighted with symbolism and its effects continue to reverberate, even for parties who had no direct involvement. Roy Hodgson left his job as England manager and the FA, having considered Ralf Rangnick – the ideological father of the preeminent German school of tactics – appointed Sam Allardyce to succeed him.


He managed one game before the FA cravenly yielded to a ludicrous supposed exposé. England did well enough from the shambles – not perhaps the philosophical overhaul Rangnick would have brought, but in the circumstances Gareth Southgate’s waistcoated decency and a World Cup semi-final was revolutionary enough – but the other two parties were set off on their roads to perdition.

Allardyce had just saved Sunderland from relegation and, by the end of 2015-16 season, had them in as good a position as they had been since the height of the Peter Reid era. They replaced him with David Moyes and, now sixth in League One, may not yet have stopped falling. Allardyce, meanwhile, was suddenly a manager with a point to prove.

He was 62 and contemplating his legacy. Nobody would want to go out remembered for a pint of wine. He saved Crystal Palace from relegation but, with two years left on his contract, quit and, seemingly exhausted, said he was interested only in international jobs.

The lure of Everton, though, was too much: a club with resources, a club he could build, take deep into Europe, become more than just Fireman Sam, drafted in to tackle emergencies as and when they occurred. And that potential, that sense of status, was precisely why it couldn’t be: the school of science has aesthetic expectations Allardyce was never going to meet. And so he was left unfulfilled, chasing one last job to define his career.

But the vast majority of footballing lives end in failure. Perhaps there is another act in Allardyce’s managerial career, but his boast that he has never been relegated from the Premier League surely cannot endure this season. He took over a team that had taken seven points from 13 league games this season; this was his 11th match, and they brought just six points. The gulf to fourth-bottom and safety is only one fewer than the total of points West Brom have won in the first two-thirds of the season.

The January window was key to keeping Sunderland up and Allardyce was clear that it was his best hope of saving West Brom. It was Diagne, one of the five players he brought in, who opened the scoring by outmuscling Victor Lindelöf to head home a looping Conor Gallagher cross.

Seven times before away in the league this season, United had gone behind and come back to win, but not here. There had seemed little possibility of a repeat. With no Paul Pogba to drive from deep, their only real threat came from Harry Maguire’s occasional forward wanders. But just before half-time Bruno Fernandes marked Friday’s 10th anniversary of Wayne Rooney’s overhead winner against Manchester City with a sweetly shinned volley of his own. The Portuguese midfielder’s brilliance, though, once again represented the only real creativity in a sluggish United side.

West Brom have Burnley, Brighton, Newcastle and Crystal Palace up next. It is those games that will determine their fate, but this was a nice bonus to set them on their way into a crucial passage of the season. – Guardian