West Brom 1 Manchester United 1
With Sam Allardyce able to field his key January signings from the start, Albion produced an encouraging performance against title-chasing Manchester United, and will be disappointed not to have taken all three points.
It’s not very often that we have been able to say that this season, and the odds are that these positive signs have come too late, but there is at least hope that the Baggies can finish the season with some respectability.
It was an incident-packed game and one with plenty of controversial moments, including the opening goal inside two minutes when Mbaye Diagne outmuscled Viktor Lindelof to head home Conor Gallagher’s excellent cross. That was just one of the incidents that United captain, Harry Maguire, had a whinge about in his bitter post-match interview, feeling that Lindelof had been fouled.
For the first twenty minutes, Albion were excellent, biting into every tackle and generally looking to get on the front foot. Allardyce had opted to go with a 4-3-3 formation with Okay sitting behind Gallagher and Maitland-Niles in the midfield and Pereira and Snodgrass operating either side of Diagne. Okay, making his first start, certainly looked like the player Albion have been missing this season. Solid in the tackle, he also showed great composure on the ball and was always looking forward to get the Baggies moving.
As the half went on, United began to dominate more and more and Albion began to get deeper and deeper. The visitors weren’t creating too many chances but, just before the break, the pressure told as Bruno Fernandes volleyed home after great work by Luke Shaw. United’s talisman maybe had a little too much space but it’s difficult to really criticise the defence too much on a day when they really stepped up to the plate.
With Pereira operating out on the left, his influence was limited and, compared to some of his recent performances, he was a little disappointing. His set piece delivery in particular was not up to his usual quality and a number of promising situations were wasted as a result.
United started the second half well but struggled to find away through an impressive Baggies rearguard. Perhaps the biggest controversy of the day came when Maguire went down under the challenge of Semi Ajayi. Craig Pawson gave the penalty but was asked to review it by VAR, Jon Moss. He reversed his decision but it seemed that Maguire was actually offside anyway, although that didn’t appear to have been checked by the VAR.
As the visitors committed more and more players forward, it was Albion who had the chances to claim all three points. On one break, Ainsley Maitland-Niles played a really poor ball towards Diagne when the Baggies had a 2-on-1 advantage. Diagne muscled his way past Maguire on another occasion only for De Gea to save, and then push away the rebound – Maguire claimed that the referee had said it would have been a foul anyway, although that remains a topic for debate. The Baggies’ best chance in the second half also fell for Diagne – Darnell Furlong, who had come on at half time for the injured Lee Peltier, put a delightful ball into the “corridor of uncertainty” but the Senegalese striker could only fire over with his right foot, when he really should have used his left.
Same Johnstone had a relatively quiet afternoon considering the opposition – his first save of note was from Mason Greenwood with Furlong clearing McTominay’s follow up off the line, but in the final moments of stoppage time, he produced a wonderful fingertip save to deny Harry Maguire pushing the ball onto the post.
The Baggies definitely deserved at least a point and, for only the second time this season, they outscored the opposition on xG – 0.95 to United’s 0.42. That is more a reflection of the defensive performance than anything else and that bodes well for the upcoming run of four fixtures against teams that Albion need to try to catch.
It is most likely too late for the Baggies to save themselves, particularly with the three sides above them picking up victories this weekend, but if they can produce performances like this one week in week out, they will surely start to pick up points.