West Bromwich Albion 2 Manchester United 2
There was a touch of the old Manchester United about their ability to score late on and salvage something from a game that had looked to be slipping through their fingers but this still seemed like another unsatisfactory result for Louis van Gaal and his players.
Daley Blind's beautifully placed shot three minutes from time, after Saido Berahino looked to have scored the winning goal against United for the second season running, earned the visitors a point but left them still searching for their first away win under Van Gaal. For the first time in 18 years United have gone six Premier League games without winning on their travels.
For United, who have a tough run of games to come – they face Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in three of their next four fixtures – there was at least the sight of Marouanne Fellaini scoring his first goal for the club in 24 appearances. Long overdue but a wonderful strike. The same could be said for the way Stephane Sessegnon put Albion in front in an absorbing game.
For Albion, the evening had got off to the best possible start. Already looking bright in the frenetic early stages, the home team took the lead in the eighth minute through a strike of sublime quality. From United’s point of view it was a desperately poor goal to concede and raised questions about the defensive limitations of the Luke Shaw-Angel Di María axis on the left flank.
There appeared little danger when Boaz Myhill, making a rare appearance after Ben Foster injured his calf in training in the lead-up to the game, hurriedly cleared up field. But Graham Dorrans, getting in front of Shaw who had gone tight on him, deliciously flicked the ball around the corner to release the marauding Andre Wisdom.
With Di María caught up field and Shaw now out of the game, the space opened up invitingly for Wisdom to break forward on the Albion right. The full-back made some ground before looking up and sliding a low centre perfectly into the path of Sessègnon, who did not break stride before sweeping a sumptuous first-time shot from the edge of the penalty area beyond David de Gea and into the top corner. It was a glorious goal and immediately put United on the back foot.
United huffed and puffed for the remainder of the first half, enjoying the majority of the possession but unable to force their way back into the game. Robin van Persie, set up by Di María’s lovely pass, shot straight at Myhill two minutes after Sessègnon’s goal and the Dutchman went close again later in the half, when he picked Joleon Lescott’s pocket. Cutting back on to that favoured left foot and little more than eight yards out, Van Persie saw his low shot blocked by Craig Dawson.
United, for whom Adnan Januzaj was making his first start under Van Gaal, continued to probe but that ruthless touch in front of goal was missing. A floated pass from Daley Blind in the 19th minute exposed Dawson's poor positioning and picked out Di María's run in behind. The Argentinian controlled the ball beautifully but his shot lacked conviction and was comfortably saved.
When Di María did generate some power with his left foot, after being teed up by Van Persie later in the first half, his angled drive was straight down Myhill’s throat.
Albion, in fairness, were not content to sit on their advantage and carried a genuine threat on the counter-attack against a United defence that looked vulnerable. Another raid down the United left ended with Dorrans delivering a superb cross that Saido Berahino, stretching every sinew, was desperately close to getting a touch to on the edge of the United six-yard box.
Van Gaal wasted no time in making a change, replacing Ander Herrera with Fellaini at the interval, and was quickly rewarded. The Belgian had been on the pitch for less than three minutes when he levelled things up with another superb goal. Di María’s inswinging floated cross from the right looked no more than hopeful but Fellaini, after slightly nudging Lescott, took the ball down on his chest. He took one more touch to create the angle to shoot and then wrapped his foot around the ball to hammer a rising 18-yard drive inside the near post and into the top corner.
Not a bad way to open your account and clearly not what one of Albion’s media staff had in mind. “Fellaini has now taken his tracksuit off, fortunately he has a Man Utd strip underneath,” was the tweet that was posted on their official Twitter account moments beforehand.
United were buoyant, cranking up the pressure on Albion and sensing blood. Wisdom was in the right place at the right time to clear Rafael da Silva’s low cross as the visitors poured forward. Yet it was Albion who struck again, after more poor United defending. Running onto Chris Brunt’s threaded pass, after being played onside by Da Silva, Berahino sprinted clear and showed no little composure to calmly steer a right-footed shot beyond De Gea and into the far corner.
United’s frustration was building. Their appeals for a penalty were turned down, when Sébastien Pocognoli unwittingly handled following a challenge with Januzaj. Van Gaal threw on Radamel Falcao, who started on the bench because he was suffering from jet lag, and moments later Van Persie volleyed against the upright. Finally, Blind brought parity with a lovely left-footed shot from 18 yards.