West Brom 1 Manchester United 1 – Toothless Red Devils get ‘Allardyced’
The Red Devils bore the full brunt of Allardyce’s tactics, with ‘bore’ being the operative word. West Brom set up the barricades, sat deep, and put everything they learned from their two-day seminar on ‘Parking the Bus’ by Jose Mourinho to good use.
United, to their credit, tried their best to attack. They huffed and puffed but struggled to break down a stubborn West Brom side drilled in the art of Allardycian football.
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In the end, only a Bruno Fernandes wonder goal helped to spare United’s blushes, as both teams had to settle for a point apiece in a battling 1-1 draw.
The good news is for United is their impressive away record remains intact – they did not lose a single away game in the Year of the Rat – and there is a very good chance that they will finish in the top-four this season.
The bad news, however, is that the result just further cements Manchester City’s status as Champions-elect this season, with the Citizens now six points clear of United at the top of the table despite having played a game less.
Line-ups: It’s a pretty standard starting XI from United, with Fred continuing to deputise in the middle of the park for the injured Paul Pogba. Edinson Cavani continues to lead the line for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men, which means Anthony Martial is shunted out on the wide left. Fernandes and Marcus Rashford make up the rest of the attacking quartet for United. The only other notable selection for United is the return of David De Gea in goal, with Dean Henderson being rewarded for his clean sheet against West Ham in the FA Cup with a place on the bench.
2nd min: GOAL! West Brom make a dream start
Wha…what just happened? United barely get 10 touches of the ball before West Brom score! The ball is worked to Conor Gallagher on the right and he sends a looping cross into the box which finds Mbaye Diagne. The Senegalese striker outmuscles Victor Lindelof and plants a firm header into the top corner of the net to give the home team an early lead. It’s a dream start for Sam Allardyce’s men, who now have something to cling onto while defending from their trenches.
3rd – 43rd min: United attack, West Brom defend
Nothing happens. Well, that’s not entirely true. Approximately 72,000 stars explode in the 40-odd minutes following Diagne’s goal. But nothing of note happens on the pitch at The Hawthorns. Allardyce’s plan is working like a charm.
44th min: GOAL! Bruno Fernandes equalises with a wonder goal
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Once again, Fernandes pops up with a special goal from out of nowhere to haul United back into the game. Harry Maguire, of all players, charge forward in the attacking third and sets Luke Shaw free down the left touchline. The left-back just manages to send a cross into the box that is slightly behind Fernandes. The Portuguese midfielder, however, somehow twists his body before sending a first-time volley into the top corner that leaves Sam Johnstone in the West Brom goal clutching at straws. It’s a gorgeous goal at an important time for United as both teams head into the break level at 1-1. Can the visitors capitalise on this and go on to grab all three points in the second half?
62nd min: PENALTY! Maguire goes down in the box under the challenge of Ajayi
It takes nearly 20 minutes after the break, but United’s persistence in trying to break down West Brom finally pays dividends as Maguire is seemingly fouled in the box by Semi Ajayi. A penalty is awarded and with Fernandes lurking at the spot, everyone who watches football already knows what is going to happen next…
63rd min: Referee Craig Pawson overturns penalty decision!
That’s right, VAR happens. The powers that be in the sky recommend that referee Craig Pawson go to the monitor to judge for himself if the penalty should stand. That is usually as good an indicator that it should not. True enough, Pawson reverses his decision to award a penalty after deeming Maguire (all 100kg of him, and whatever else his body from the neck down weighs) to have tumbled in the box far too easily. Maguire is incensed and Fernandes looks visibly disappointed.
70th min: West Brom clear off the line
United remain on the front foot and once again, Maguire makes his presence in the box felt from a corner. He heads the ball back into the six-yard box, West Brom fail to clear their lines properly and Mason Greenwood fires a fierce shot that Johnston saves with his legs. The rebound falls to McTominay who chests and volleys at goal but Kyle Bartley happens to be at the right place at the right time and makes the block on the line.
78th min: De Gea makes a double save from Diagne
West Brom, who have in the last 10 minutes shown some signs of life in attack, nearly take the lead again through Diagne. The 29-year-old powers past Maguire and goes one-on-one with De Gea, but his shot is well saved by the Spanish goalkeeper with his legs. Diagne goes for the rebound but before he can head it into an unguarded net, De Gea jumps up and claws the ball away to safety.
88th min: Diagne misses a sitter
With United committing men forward in search of the winning goal, they begin to leave gaps in their defence. Granted, between Lindelof, Maguire and De Gea, maybe those gaps have ALWAYS been there. This time, it’s Lindelof who fails to cut out Darnell Furlong’s cross from the right. The ball falls right into the path of Diagne but the striker somehow contrives to put the ball over the bar from close range.
95th min: Maguire hits the post!
It’s very nearly a typically dramatic winner for United deep into ‘Fergie Time’, with the impressive Shaw sending yet another delicious cross into the box from the left. Maguire rushes in and gets a firm head on it, but Johnstone just manages to tip the ball away from goal and onto the post.
Maguire’s header proves to be the last opportunity of the game and both teams have to settle for a point. On reflection, West Brom are good value for the draw despite having spent most of the 90 minutes in their own half and they could have even nicked a win but for the profligacy of Diagne. The Baggies, however, still find themselves deep in the relegation zone despite this impressive result and it looks increasingly likely that they will find themselves in the Championship next season.
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As for United, the only thing they can play for this season is to finish in the top-four and perhaps preserve their unbeaten away record. Winning the Premier League title, while by no means out of reach just yet, looks as improbable as getting Thirteen Wonders in Mahjong this Chinese New Year. There is little doubt the title will be headed to Manchester this season, but with each passing week, it’s looking increasingly likely that it will end up at the Sky Blue side of the city – By FBS Guest Writer