Manchester United made the small jaunt south to the Hawthornes to k ick off the new year in the English top flight. The undefeated visitors topped the league table. West Brom were near its bottom.
Having not scored from open play since March, Rooney's first touch today brought the opening goal. Obertan did work down the left before laying back to Evra in support. The French back crossed and Rooney placed a standing header down and into the bottom corner: 1-0 United after two minutes.
Albion didn't give anyone much time to celebrate. Less than 10 minutes later, after a forward hoof, Vidic could only clear down to Morrison. He volleyed first-time and the ball lazered into Kusczcak's far, top corner. All one's thanks to the Kodak finish.
Gary Neville should have been sent off shortly thereafter for an egregiously poor, chasing tackle inside United's box, but the referee was thankfully gun-shy to rule anything.
West Brom dominated possession for much of the half's remain. They were better than the league leaders on both sides of the ball, cutting out opposing attacks in midfield and passing triangles moving forward The Baggies penetrated United's right side again in added time, but Dorrans shanked his driven, close-range shot near-side when through on goal.
The second half began 1-1. Andy Gray said United weren't quite "at it." Whether or not Man United were indeed not "at it" was never proved or disproved. However, the second frame began as the first one ended: West Brom passing and playing better than the former European champions.
Alex Ferguson looked like he was playing for the draw after withdrawing his only winger for a fourth central midfielder, bringing on Gibson for Obertan. A smiling Hernandez replaced the frowning Berbatov.
Immediately after, in the 61st minute, Ferdinand was duped by Thomas and conceded a penalty. Odinwinge stepped up for the resulting spot-kick and dribbled it wide left. 1-1 still.
Shortly thereafter, Rooney had a lane through to goal, but he was hesitant to dribble to his left side and botched it. A minute later he made up for it by driving decisively past Cech to win a short free kick on 67 minutes. His own delivery from it was excellent but yielded nothing.
This game had "late Hernandez winner" written all over it. I sat in expectation. On 71 minutes, Ferguson mercifully withdrew the Neviller for a da Silva twin. The match was still combative and fairly even. After 75 minutes through, though, there's my boy: Hernandez stood in front of the goalkeeper and nodded in Rooney's corner very simply. United led 2-1.
Again Rooney drove strong through the middle of the pitch to unleash a counterattack. Fletcher crossed back for him but his header ballooned over.
West Brom had a right go at the Mancunians to close out the final 15 minutes. Hernandez showed good engine and desire to assist in wholesale back-tracking. With two minutes remaining Rooney appeared to suffer another relatively serious left ankle sprain. Some magic spray later and he was back on as the fourth official raised five added minutes.
United continued to man their hatches, albeit tenuously, to eventually secure the hard-fought and important, but perhaps ill-deserved, 2-1 victory away at West Brom on the first day of the new year.
Carson: 5: Did not make any outrageous saves nor blunders of the same variety. Should have marshaled his defenders better on Hernandez' equalizer. Carson himself could have come out to contest the header and should have saved it standing between his sticks.
Scharner: 6: Looked good enough in a makeshift role to base confident Baggie football at the back.
Ibanez: 5: I tend to space out when West Brom have the ball. But I don't think this player did much.
Cech: 6: Did well enough for me not to notice him.
Reid: 6: Involved from the outside on both sides of the ball. Got stuck in n' that.
Dorrans: 6.5: Had a great chance in the first half but he blew it relentlessly. Otherwise more muted.
Mulumbu: 6.5: Athletic and explosive in the middle. But seriously.
Brunt: 7.5: Very useful. Strong but with touch. And a bang-up left foot. Ran over Carrick once like he didn't exist (spoiler: he doesn't).
Thomas: 7.5: Had success against Neville. Earned the penalty against Rio. Well done.
Morrison: 7.5: Scored a sweet volley early on the one-time to equalize. That equalizer set the stage for West Brom to play most of the better football throughout, in which he was consistently involved.
Odemwingie: 6: Combative against better center-backs but his penalty miss was excruciatingly poor. It's still a positive shift from him, but only just. It was a big miss that denied his team a just result.
Kusczcak: 6: Didn't have much to do but made a great save late-on. Goal was virtually unstoppable. Van der Sar wouldn't have saved it either.
Neville: 3.5: Why don't I just write "Still far from match fitness" out of respect for the tenured right-back.
Ferdinand: 5: Conceded a penalty and looked a little loose at times.
Vidic: 6.5: Played an unwitting part in Brom's first goal when his clearance was just poor enough for profit. Otherwise you could hardly say he had a bad game.
Evra: 6: Supplied Rooney's opener but didn't do much else remarkable besides manning his wide station diligently throughout the match.
Obertan: 6.5: His speed was an asset for the side. Gets the hockey assist on the first goal for keeping it simple. He was inventive if not still a little naive. Passing can be casual and wayward. As he beefs up and grows up he could and should stick around for years.
Fletcher: 7 Got stuck-in in midfield despite being employed unusually on the right side of it.
Carrick: 6: Did one or two things I liked and was overall economic enough despite being pedestrian.
Anderson: 5.5: Passing was poor. Seventh start in a row in all comps; perhaps it showed.
Berbatov: 5.5: Involved on offense but not at his best. Like most dribblers, he tends to wait too long before passing to options that were more ideal earlier. Lazily caught offsides on several occasions. His class exudes even on an off-day which today was for the Bulgarian.
Rooney: 7 At times his strength was questionable, at other times it appeared improved. He endured a mediocre first half from open play after scoring. His goal though, was well-taken and necessary. In the second half he played with more abandon and refreshingly drove at defenders with decision. Slower than people realize.
Subs: Fabio (better than Neville), Gibson (better than his last outing), Hernandez (sprightly and necessary).
Hail Javier Hernandez again. He is truly a sparkplug and plays with ebullience. Expect him to replace Rooney as United's talisman when the Englishman is inevitably sold.
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