Don’t you just hate Monday night games? You have to wait all weekend to watch your team in action and then even go to work before catching a game. What could be worse? Well, thankfully last night’s game made up for an Albion-free weekend.
United hadn’t won away all season and Albion hadn’t beaten the visitors in the league at The Hawthorns for 30-odd years. Yet this isn’t the same United side of a few years ago – or even the one which easily beat the Baggies 3-0 at The Hawthorns last season.
Alan Irvine was forced to change the injured Ben Foster for Boaz Myhill and recalled Andre Wisdom in place of Cristian Gamboa. Personally speaking, I thought Gamboa’s pace would have been better suited to the rapid Di Maria.
Yet it was Wisdom who played a massive part in Albion’s early goal. The Baggies had settled nicely and were moving the ball around nicely early on. Dorrans nipped in front of Shaw and flicked the ball to the on-rushing Wisdom. The young full back found Stephane Sessegnon who riffled a curling shot into the top corner. Sess’ shot started a foot outside the post but curled beautifully into the top corner to give Albion a dream start.
The goal rocked a shaky United defence and for the next 20 minutes Albion bossed the game. Dorrans almost found Berahino with a wicked cross, but the ball was too far away from his outstretched leg as the Baggies smelt blood.
United slowly came back into the game yet Albion’s excellent defensive shape restricted them to pot shots and half chances. Myhill made a snapshot save from Di Maria before getting down well to Van Persie’s half volley on the odd occasions the visitors settled.
After the break
Yet all of Albion’s hard work in the first half was undone minutes into the second half. Substitute Fellaini bullied Lescott off the ball and curled an unstoppable effort into the top corner to draw United level.
It was now United’s turn to pressure Albion. But the Baggies stood firm time and time again. Craig Dawson was magnificent in defence and at times kept United at bay on his own. Dawson’s covering awareness meant Van Persie was kept quiet all evening. The Dutchman did come close with a volley that rattled the post, but Dawson marshalled him superbly all evening.
In truth, Albion’s second goal came out of nowhere. In one of the few times we managed to keep hold of the ball for any amount of time, Brunt played a smart one-two with Sessegnon before playing a sublime through ball to the on-rushing Berahino. The young striker took the shot early but expertly found the bottom corner – much to the delight of the home crowd.
United again looked shell-shocked. Off went the injured Di Maria and United’s attacking threat diminished. Falcao came on but had little impact. The visitors pressed for another equaliser but with Dawson in defence time and time again they were left frustrated.
But with minutes remaining, Lescott could only toe a cross into the path of Daley Blind on the edge of the area who curled a low shot into the bottom corner. A gasp of despair went around The Hawthorns as three well-earned points were again snatched from Albion’s grasp.
With added time, there were still seven minute remaining. United tried to find a winner but Albion’s rearguard stood firm for a respectable point against Van Gaal’s side of multi-million pound transfers.
Should we really feel disappointed about a point against Manchester United? They still have a team filled with quality players. Yet Albion matched them for long periods. Our defensive shape was excellent and reminded me of a Roy Hodgson tactical master-class. Dawson had his best performance in an Albion shirt – as did Wisdom at right back. Albion’s midfield worked tirelessly and Sess and Berahino worked well together – especially in the first half. Berahino again stole the headlines with a strike that reminded me of Thierry Henry in his heyday.
While Irvine was certainly not first choice by many fans when appointed, he’s quickly winning over the Albion faithful with performances like this. Consider last night’s performance to that last season when Albion rolled over against United under Pepe Mel. They are worlds apart. My only criticism would be the timing of his substitutes. Twice now against Sunderland and United, Irvine has delayed making changes to a tiring side. On both occasions we’ve thrown away the lead and have been disappointed with a 2-2 result.
If we can find that level of performance and application against Crystal Palace on Saturday, we’ll quickly find ourselves climbing away from the relegation zone.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES
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