Manchester United vs. West Brom: Score, Grades and Post-Match Reaction
No Wayne Rooney, no problem.
Manchester United were without their star forward and didn't bring Robin van Persie on until late in the second half against West Bromwich Albion, but came out with three points in a tight 2-0 victory on Saturday.
It didn't take long for the Red Devils to nudge their way in front.
Man U's Ashley Young crashed in from the left side of the box, and his strike went in off West Brom's Gareth McAuley, who was pegged with an own goal in the ninth minute.
Young nearly made it 2-0 for the home club when a deflected cross from Shinji Kagawa found Young from about 25 yards out. It took a brilliant save from West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster to keep the lead at one.
Kagawa's return from a two-month-long injury absence was the story heading into this match. He was given the start ahead of van Persie, who had four yellow cards heading into the match and certainly needed a break.
BBCSport tweeted the following heading into the match, which was a surprising development.
Reports that Robin van Persie is on bench for Manchester United at home to West Brom with Shinji Kagawa to start. #bbcfootball— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 29, 2012
Despite RvP's need for a break, many United fans voiced their opinions that he needed to enter the pitch as the match was too close for comfort. One of those who spoke out was Red on Twitter.
Robin van Persie. On Manchester United’s bench. Chewing gum. Does it get any better than this?— Red (@ThatBoyGiggsy) December 29, 2012
Don't worry, Red. Van Persie ended up replacing Kagawa in the 65th minute as the Red Devils struggled to score their second goal.
And while it took 90 minutes to find their insurance goal, van Persie finally put one in on a left-footed finesse shot from outside the box at the start of stoppage time. The beautiful-bending shot seemed effortless from the Premier League's leading goal scorer.
Manchester United's victory wasn't without a hard push from West Brom. The opposing side pushed the ball into the penalty area many times in the second half and even hit the post on a header that would have tied the game.
It seemed at times like Man U were doomed to give up an equalizing goal, but Paul Carr from ESPN pointed out an interesting stat that showed how unlikely that would actually have been.
Manchester United is unbeaten in 43 straight league games when scoring first (41 wins).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) December 29, 2012
Manchester United may have been able to maintain leads in recent history, but clean sheets have come few and far between, making Saturday's victory that much sweeter for United fans.
Enzo on Twitter was quick to shed light on the matter.
That awkward moment when Manchester United get a clean sheet.— Enzo Brillantes (@EnzoBrill) December 29, 2012
Shinji Kagawa, Manchester United: B-
It was a rare opportunity for Shinji Kagawa to prove he's worthy of a starting spot in his return from a two-month absence. He was a pest to West Brom's defense and set up a goal that should have been stifled. Kagawa didn't make any jaws drop, but he was solid in his first action back.
He wasn't around for much of the second half but was far from effective in the 20 minutes he played in the final frame. He would end up being replaced by Robin van Persie.
Robin van Persie, Manchester United: B+
The Premier League's leading scorer was brought on with less than a half-hour left with one mission: score the match's insurance goal.
He made that happen.
Manchester United spent much of the final half locking down their side of the pitch, but van Persie still had a few opportunities to score and was denied. But as the game entered stoppage time, RvP got the perfect opening with his left foot and bent in a beautiful finesse shot from outside the box.
It was enough to allow the Manchester United faithful to take a deep breath and celebrate the three points.
Ashley Young, Manchester United: B
Young was all over the place in the first half. His run in the ninth minute barreled through multiple West Brom defenders, and his strike ended up resulting in an own goal that put his side ahead early.
He almost struck gold twice in one half, but his beautiful outside shot was deflected wide by Foster. Young squandered a couple of opportunities to notch United's insurance goal in the second half; otherwise his grade would be near perfect.
Gareth McAuley, West Brom: D-
West Brom's McAuley stifled a few Manchester United attacks in the second half, but unfortunately scoring an own goal pretty much screws over his match grade.
If it weren't for his first-half mishap, West Brom would have been in much better shape through a match that would have been scoreless for much of the contest.
Follow B/R Featured Columnist Steven Cook on Twitter.
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