By Alex Wilson
- Mata sent off in first half
- Smalling and Darmian return
- United’s top four bid takes a setback
United lost out narrowly to West Brom in a 1-0 defeat at the Hawthorns after Juan Mata was sent off for a second bookable offence in the 25th minute of the game.
Manchester United made 4 changes from their win over Watford in midweek, with a more experienced selection lining up for this game. Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian returned from injury to start, while Michael Carrick and Jesse Lingard also started after being rested in midweek.
After four consecutive wins Louis Van Gaal described the mood at Old Trafford as ‘fantastic’ before the game, however, it was not to be a fantastic day for the reds in the end. Though they fought valiantly they were really up against it after losing a man so early on in the game against an opposition famous for grinding out results.
United started promisingly, with the first shot from Martial in the second minute of the game, fired straight at Foster.
West Brom sat mostly behind the ball and maintained their shape well as United enjoyed the majority of the possession in the first ten minutes of the game, holding 62% possession.
United gave away a free-kick which led to one of West Brom’s first real chances of the half; a cross which landed on the head of McAuley who headed wide. He was flagged offside by the linesman in any case.
Mata found himself in the referee’s book after blocking a free-kick from too close a distance. Then, almost straight after, he received a second yellow for a late tackle on ex-red devil Darren Fletcher. A terrible blow for United who then had to continue for over an hour with 10 men.
This was the first red card for a United player this season and a career first for Juan Mata, who looked notably disappointed in himself after the incident.
A great effort from full-back Dawson almost gave the baggies the lead just after United were reduced to 10, following a long-range shot which just dipped over De Gea and United’s goal.
West Brom started asking questions of United’s defence after they went a man down, but the reds held up well. The return of Chris Smalling, without a doubt, added an extra layer of armour to United’s backline. The centre-back kept Berahino quiet for most of the game.
Despite their setback United still showed an attacking presence with their possession high up the field. Martial and Lingard both had shots blocked after some controlled build up play by the reds.
The second-half began similarly to the first-half, only this time, it was United that sat back a bit more initially and defended against West Brom, who despite holding the ball much better, still couldn’t carve a way through the United defence.
Things then changed and United began to take the game by the scruff of the neck: A magic run through West Brom’s defence allowed Martial to set up Rashford almost on the penalty spot, the following shot was deflected for a corner. United pressed for three corners within the first few minutes of the second half
Lingard raised bums off seats after firing a long distance shot which clipped the crossbar before going over. United started looking much the much more dangerous team at this point.
Martial, who had been running through the opposition defence all game, almost ran right through on goal before being brought down just outside the box. United missed Mata’s free-kick skills though as the awarded free-kick didn’t amount to much.
West Brom had their first half-chance of the second half as Berahino hit wide from a low cross.
The baggies though did manage to break down United’s ten men after 66 minutes, Rondon converted a low cross after taking a touch to set himself up at close range.
The evidence of West Brom having an extra man started to show as United struggled to hold possession meaningfully while West Brom sat completely behind the ball, seemingly happy to see out the game.
The in-form Memphis came on for Rashford in the 74th minute in an attempt to shake things up for United, but the effort proved futile.
After this point, the game slowed right down with little to comment on. United looked desperate to get a goal back but against a tightly compact West Brom with an extra man, the chance of a draw was out of sight.
True United fans won’t be turning their backs on Mata for his mistakes today, but they must surely admit that it was his sending off that ultimately changed the fate of the game massively. United must come back instantly if they hope to ensure Champions League football next season.
Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian (Fosu-Mensah 83), Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Herrera (Schneiderlin 62), Lingard, Mata, Martial, Rashford (Memphis 75) Substitutes Not Used: Romero, Varela, Weir, Fellaini