Match report: United 1 West Brom 0
Manchester United recorded a first home win of the Premier League season on Saturday night, earning a hard-earned 1-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford.
Bruno Fernandes then saw a penalty saved by Sam Johnstone, but the former United Academy goalkeeper had stepped off his line and our influential no.18 made no mistake at the second time of asking.
United went on to secure three points and, while it was not a vintage performance, a win after an international break is always welcome and the Reds have now moved up the table to ninth as a result.
FIRST HALF - HONOURS EVEN
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made two changes to his previous starting XI by replacing the injured Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay with Alex Telles and Nemanja Matic, with the former making his Old Trafford debut. Notably, Paul Pogba was omitted from the 18-man squad to an ankle injury sustained with France.
Wearing black armbands in tribute to the late Albert Quixall, United started brightly and Anthony Martial went close to scoring in the very first minute with a glancing header from Juan Mata’s cross, yet the outstanding opportunity of the opening stages arrived in the 17th minute.
It started with Harry Maguire intercepting a loose ball on the half-way line, driving forward and playing it out wide to Marcus Rashford. His cross found Fernandes and the Portuguese teed up Martial, whose shot from close range was brilliantly saved by former United man Johnstone.
Not to be outdone at the other end, United no.1 David De Gea showed his quality a moment later with a brilliant fingertip stop to prod Karlan Grant’s right-footed shot just inches wide of the post.
The Baggies held a deep defensive line and that frustrated the Reds, though Fernandes almost inspired an opening in the 33rd minute, with a sublime pass towards the back post that Mata directed back into the six-yard box. A deflection off a defender left the ball lingering in the air and Martial was marginally beaten to a 50/50 by the advancing Johnstone.
Maguire was next to go close with a thunderous volley that smashed into the face of West Brom captain Bartley, who went down in a heap as a result. He quickly rose to his feet and almost netted himself in the 42nd minute with a header that landed on the roof of De Gea’s goal.
SECOND HALF - BRUNO PENALTY DRAMA AT BOTH ENDS
The start of the second half was unusually delayed by 30 seconds or so after the referee Coote reprimanded a West Brom coach for running his players through a warm-up drill on the pitch – which, frustratingly, required a batch of cones to be retrieved from the far side of the pitch.
When the game eventually restarted, the official was in the thick of it straightaway: initially awarding a penalty to the visitors following an apparent foul by Fernandes on Conor Gallagher, before dramatically overturning the decision after consulting his VAR monitor at pitchside.
But there was even more theatre to come: after De Gea had made a stunning save with his foot to deny Conor Townsend, United won a penalty at the other end when Mata’s cross struck the hand of Darnell Furlong. Fernandes saw his spot-kick saved by Johnstone, but the former Red had stepped off his line and our Portuguese playmaker successfully found the opposite corner with his retake.
West Brom manager Slaven Bilic made two changes shortly after that concession and one of his replacements, Callum Robinson, caught the eye when his curling shot bounced off the crossbar. Credit must be given to West Brom stopper Johnstone, who continued his superb performance with a couple of brilliant saves to deny Rashford and then Maguire.
A tense finale ensued as rain fell down at Old Trafford and Solskjaer's Reds stuck together, thwarting a late West Brom rally and securing a valuable victory in the Premier League.
United's attention now turns to the UEFA Champions League and an important Group H match against Istanbul Basaksehir on Tuesday at Old Trafford.
United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (c), Telles, Fred (McTominay 83), Matic, Mata (Cavani 62), Fernandes, Rashford (van de Beek 79), Martial.
Subs not used: Henderson, Tuanzebe, Williams, James.
Goal: Fernandes 56 (pen)
West Brom: Johnstone, Furlong, Bartley (c), Ivanovic (Krovinovic 79), Ajayi, Townsend, Gallagher, Sawyers, Diangana (Robson-Kanu 62), Pereira, Grant (Robinson 62).
Subs not used: Button, Phillips, Harper, O'Shea.
“It's always tense and it's fine margins. I'm delighted with the clean sheet and we could have made it more comfortable but the international breaks never help. We had everyone back yesterday but we didn't know the test results and hadn't had the COVID tests back before the session so all our prep was this morning. So it's not easy when you only have 20 minutes or half an hour prepping for this game. But we're ready now to go again on Tuesday. Three points, home win, no more talk about that but we need to keep consistent performances, better performances than this. We know that. If we want to move up the table, we have to play better.”
MAN OF THE MATCH
Bruno Fernandes was the overriding winner of the Man of the Match award, voted for on our official app after claiming 64 per cent of the votes.
Our no.18 was involved in the two major talking points of the match. First, VAR ruled he had got the ball when he challenged Conor Gallagher in our box after a penalty had initially been awarded to the visitors. Then he went up the other end and, at the second attempt, converted our own spot-kick which turned out to be the crucial winning goal for United.
Afterwards he had this to say to club media: “It doesn’t matter that the keeper comes off the line, I’m not happy I didn’t score the first time. Okay, I scored the second one but I need to score the second one. At this point the most important thing is the three points. It was the most important but we know we can do much better and we will do for sure.”