West Brom make most of Juan Mata red card to take three points
The Manchester United player was sent off in the first half after a second yellow card
Manchester United’s Juan Mata is shown a red card by referee Mike Dean during his side’s Premier League clash with West Brom at the Hawthorns. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
West Bromwich Albion have waited for 32 years to celebrate victory in this fixture and it will not take long for Manchester United to work out how that run came to an end. The post-mortem will focus on the poor marking that allowed Salomón Rondón the time to control and shoot home from 12 yards out and, perhaps more than anything, the two yellow cards that Juan Mata picked up in the space of 158 seconds in the first half.
Forced to play with 10 men for 64 minutes after Mata’s ridiculous dismissal, United never really looked like scoring and saw their hopes of rescuing a top-four finish derailed by Rondón’s fourth goal in six league games. United were unable to conjure up anything in response.
The goal was created by Sébastien Pocognoli and the substitute’s reaction afterwards – a slow walk back to his own half – provided a measure of the frustration he has felt over the past 15 months or so. Incredibly, this was the left-back’s first league appearance since Boxing Day 2014, a few days before Pulis replaced Alan Irvine as head coach, and the only reason his opportunity came about here was because of an injury to Craig Dawson.
As for United, they remain sixth, three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City having played a game more and it was hard to see how they could take any positives out of such a humdrum game.
Mata’s dismissal was the main, and pretty much the only, talking point from a dreadful opening 45 minutes. It was difficult to know what was going through Mata’s mind – if anything – when he brought down Darren Fletcher little more than two minutes after picking up a yellow card for preventing the same player from taking a quick free-kick.
The Albion captain was inside his own half on both occasions and it seemed bizarre that Mata would even think about making a needless challenge on Fletcher so soon after being cautioned. Fletcher, who is not the sort of player to dive, was sent sprawling to the turf and the referee Mike Dean was left with no option. Louis van Gaal’s face was a picture as Mata trudged off the pitch and down the tunnel.
The United manager responded by reverting to a 4-4-1 formation with Anthony Martial deployed as a lone striker and Marcus Rashford, who had started in that position, shifted out onto the right flank. United, even with 10 men, continued to enjoy more possession for long periods, yet there was little in the way of a goal threat and that had also been the story when Mata was on the pitch.
As for Albion, their gameplan never really changed. The home side had a couple of half chances in the first half, with Dawson looking their most dangerous player at times – the full-back headed wide early on and a looping 25-yard shot dropped narrowly wide of David de Gea’s goal – but there seemed little desire on Albion’s part to try and take the game to United and exploit their numerical advantage.
United flickered into life as an attacking force only sporadically.
Rashford saw a low shot from the edge of the area deflected wide, and Jesse Lingaard, who was moved from the right to the left wing in the wake of Mata’s dismissal, cut inside before skimming the roof of the net with a vicious shot.
It was hard to see where a goal was coming from but finally the breakthrough arrived courtesy of a fine cross and some desperately poor defending. Pocognoli received the ball from Fletcher and had the time and space to look up before delivering a low centre that picked out Rondón.
Totally unmarked the Albion striker was able to take a touch before swivelling and dispatching a low left-footed shot beyond De Gea and into the corner of the net.