Being an Albion fan has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride in recent years. Promotions – the odd relegation – and famous victories against local rivals and the odd win against the ‘top-four’ have meant Albion have enjoyed relative success recently. But yesterday at Old Trafford may have been the biggest success Albion have enjoyed in decades.
Following United’s hiding at their local rivals the week before, many Albion fans and pundits alike expected the Baggies to be on the wrong end of a backlash. But, in truth, it was Albion who looked like they wanted the three points more in one of the most rounded wins the club has enjoyed in the Premier League. It was difficult to pick a player who didn’t play to his full potential. Credit must also be given to Steve Clarke, who got his team selection and tactics spot on – for the second week running.
Clarke made two changes to the side which beat Sunderland a week before. Nicolas Anelka and James Morrison were out through injury with Victor Anichebe and Claudio Yacob recalled.
Albion were forced into an early change when Scott Sinclair limped out with a hamstring injury. Saido Berahio replaced the on-loan Manchester City man.
Stephane Sessegnon continued where he’d left off the week before providing a spark in Albion’s attack. Playing slightly behind the front man, Sess was able to find space and brilliantly linked up midfield and Anichebe up front.
He created the first real chance of the game when he picked up the ball on the right and wriggled between Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa to get to the byline. His initially effort was cleared back into his path and his drilled cross again caused havoc in United’s area.
The onslaught that many expected inside the first 30 minutes never materialised. Mulumbu and Yacob found the early-season form of last season and protected the back four brilliantly. The only thing Jonas Olsson had to worry about was cut above his eye. He returned, John Wile esque, with a banged head.
Albion should’ve taken the lead on the half-hour mark. Liam Ridgewell found Morgan Amalfitano down the left. The Frenchman excellently controlled the ball before sending in a wicked cross which Berahino headed just inches wide.
Rooney had United’s best chance of the opening half when he too headed over from Nani’s cross.
The Baggies again should’ve scored in the final minute of the half. Amalfitano – who was at the heart of everything Albion did well – sent over a corner which Claudio Yacob flicked on. Sessegnon found himself unmarked at the far post, but his left foot volley ended up high in the Stretford End.
After the break
It was Albion again who threatened first. Sessegnon jinked past a couple of chances before feeding Berahino. The youngster’s shot was firmly struck, but too close to De Gea’s feet.
Too many times before, Albion have been punished for missed chances. But not against United. Amalfitano picked up the ball ten yards inside his own half. There was little ahead of him so the Frenchman decided to carry the ball up the field. He continued until the edge of the United area before nut-megging Rio Ferdinand then having the composure to chip the ball over the grounded De Gea. A wonderful individual goal at the home of the champions.
Old Trafford was shocked. But United fortuitously equalised minutes later. Wayne Rooney’s curling free kick missed everybody and found its way into Myhill’s far corner. It was a really soft goal to give away.
Albion responded and almost grabbed the lead again when Olsson met Amalfitano’s corner at the back post. His downward header beat De Gea and Van Persie on the line but came back off cross bar and out for a goal kick.
The Baggies continued to press and looked like scoring every time they went forward. Amalfitano almost scored from a free kick before playing a crucial part in Albion’s winner.
Sessegnon chipped the ball forward, Amalfitano perfectly laid the ball into the path of Berahino who fired an unstoppable left foot shot past De Gea from 20 yards. Absolute joy! The away end was in raptures as Old Trafford fell silent.
Big-haired Fellani had a goal ruled out for off-side late on, but Albion defended resolutely and held on to a famous win.
What an amazing victory! A once in a generation win. Everybody from Myhill in goal up to the robust Anichebe up front were excellent. I don’t have any complaints about the performance of any of our players or the team selection and tactics employed by Steve Clarke. It was one of these days where everything went to plan.
The side, boosted by the deadline day signings of Amalfitano, Sessegnon and Anichebe, look a shell of the team which faltered against Southampton at the start of the season. Sessegnon has brought a spark to us offensively. He brings the unexpected but also works hard out of possession. He was unplayable at times yesterday.
As was Amalfitano. When Steve Clarke signed the Frenchman, he said that he’d surprise a few people. He certainly has. His goal yesterday will be replayed for years by Albion fans.
But the final mention must go to 20-year-old Saido Berahino. The Academy graduate still hasn’t started a Premier League game, but took the league by storm yesterday with his goal and all-round performance. It would be wrong to think that all Berahino did was fire Albion’s winner. He covered Ridgewell when required and provided an attacking outlay. The youngster showed great maturity and responsibility to play the outside left position. He’s a star in the making.
It was a real blood, sweat and tears victory. I don't think I've ever been more proud to be an Albion fan.
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