Assured, Confident and like ‘The Old’ United
An encouraging performance at the Hawthorns this afternoon saw three goals, three points and three Englishmen on the scoresheet. Goals from Rooney, Jones and Welbeck saw United regain 6th place on goal difference from Everton as the side look to build momentum. The game failed to match the drama seen in last season’s 5-5 draw, but it was not without controversy and turmoil.
It goes without saying that the upcoming fixtures are a tough task. Liverpool and City in the league along with the task of overhauling a 2-0 deficit in the Champions League will make for a tricky 10 days for Moyes. Nevertheless, if confidence can build and a good result can be ground out against Liverpool, it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Team selection was touted amongst social media as the ‘strongest available to Moyes’. After mentioning his preference to favour youth in light of the departing Vidic, Jones and Smalling performed well to aid their audition for that position. Both young players have been utilised throughout the defence in their United career’s but will perhaps be looking to solidify a more defined role in future.
Early stages however were far from assuring at the back. Sloppy errors were made by both Jones and Smalling and play was generally disjointed as neither side was able to string passes together to put their mark on the game. In particular, the defence was worried by the physical presence of Anichebe who broke clear from the centre back pairing at one point only to be stopped at the vital moment.
From then on in, Januzaj was harshly penalised for handball after a delightful Mata chip and Fellaini had his header cleared off the line but the killer instinct was still missing. West Brom remained resilient and the match up of Brunt and Anichebe frequently posed a danger with their neat link up play.
Foster then denied Rafael from opening the proceedings by palming his headed effort onto the cross bar after Januzaj had tricked his way down the left side. Rafael was back to his terrieresque best, galloping down the wing in support of Mata or Januzaj and always looking to create and contribute.
The breakthrough followed soon after when Rafael was crudely brought down. A driven RVP freekick saw the unmarked Phil Jones compose himself and slot home a free header. Immediately, the away end breathed a sigh of relief as the deadlock was finally broken.
Soon after, West Brom should’ve equalised after Yakob headed over from 3 yards out. As for controversy, it raised many eyebrows when Foster’s apparent handball went unpunished. As United launched a counter attack, a long adventurous ball from Mata went in search of the on running Van Persie and it appeared to strike the goalkeepers hand outside the box. Replays showed a certain red card, with United players suitably frustrated. Still, a lead at the break was much appreciated ahead of the second half.
The second 45 began with more tempo, aggression and purpose. After a clumsy foul earned Van Persie a booking, he was then treading a fine line and should have been counting his blessing that he was still on the pitch after lunging in recklessly.
A chance then went begging for the home side as again the stature of Anichebe allowed him to fire a ball across the box only for Mata to intercept from the incoming Brunt. The tempo then rose further as United pressed for a further goal to add to their tally.
As the hour mark ticked on by, Welbeck replaced RVP who was being taken off before he was sent off. The benefit was instantly seen. A spark of creativity and link up between Mata and Rafael allowed the Brazilian to whip in a cross that allowed a composed Rooney to head in unmarked at the far post to double the lead. The assist from Rafael was duly deserved given his man of the match performance.
Playing with a two goal cushion worked wonders for the squad who were clearly playing confidence for the first time in a few weeks. Then, after a Berahinho volley was denied by a sliding Rafael, the game was finalised on the 82nd minute. As Mata, Rooney and Fellaini combined with some great first touch football, a gap opened up for Welbeck to be released into and calmly slot in the third.
The central play was flourishing and the trio of Kagawa, Mata and Rooney were looking dangerous in an attacking set up. Vidic’s brief introduction for Rafael allowed applause for both players with minutes remaining. The rest remained a formality with a wry smile on Ed Woodward’s face as full-time blew. Back to winning ways with a much assured performance. The excellent Rafael undoubtedly central to the success on the pitch. As the players trudged off, the chorus of “every single one of us, stands by David Moyes” rang out after a tough week on and off the pitch for the club.