By Robert Morris
Manchester United returned to Old Trafford for their first home fixture in nearly a month. The visitors this afternoon were West Bromwich Albion, who, unlike their opponents, have had an excellent start to the season. Roberto Di Matteo’s side sat in 6th place prior to kick off; level on points with Arsenal and Tottenham. Despite a stunning away win against Arsenal before the international break, West Brom held out little hope of picking up even a point against the Red Devils.
Nonetheless, they were given reason for optimism before a ball was even kicked, as eyebrows were raised when Wayne Rooney was dropped to the bench after a string of poor performances for both club and country. In replace of the talismanic forward was the Mexican Javier Hernandez (photo). Sir Alex Ferguson’s controversial decision to start the youngster was vindicated after just five minutes. Nani’s thirty yard freekick was fired low and hard, causing Scott Carson to parry the ball into the path of Hernandez, who slotted home from close range.
Luis Nani, who has been in fantastic form so far this season, was once again putting in the kind of display that made his predecessor Christiano Ronaldo a household name. Nevertheless, the Portuguese winger showed a flash of his former self, as Berbatov played a great through ball only for Nani’s indecision to waste the chance. In the 25th minute Nani made amends; linking up with Berbatov down the right flank, before easily slotting in from close range.
As the first-half whistle blew, one could be forgiven for assuming United would stroll to victory in the second half. Not the case. The Baggies’ attacking mentality was admirable and they were given a much deserved slice of luck when Chris Brunt’s drilled cross glanced unsuspectingly off Patrice Evra into the United goal. Five minutes later West Brom were level; another delivery from Brunt, another goal. A harmless looping cross was spilt by Edwin Van der Sar to Somen Tchoyi, and the Cameroonian touched the ball into an empty net. Arguably the worst mistake of the Dutch goalkeeper’s career.
As a final throw of the dice, Sir Alex Ferguson threw on Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney, in a bid to win the match. Unfortunately for United fans it proved unsuccessful, as the Reds lacked that creative spark which has been missing all season. In fairness, West Brom deserved their point; a point which could prove vital come the end of the season. Although, perhaps more importantly, another draw for Manchester United could turn out to be devastating; even in such an early stage in the title race.