Evra displays some eye-catching candour

West Bromwich Albion 1 Manchester United 2

His left eye almost closed by bruising, accidentally inflicted by a stray elbow, Patrice Evra could have been excused a one-eyed verdict on Manchester United's victory at West Bromwich. Instead, like Rio Ferdinand and Sir Alex Ferguson, he admitted to a below-par collective display and placed his trust in the threadbare adage about winning when not playing well being a trait of champions.

After only their second away win, in which the unbeaten leaders built on referee Chris Foy's failure to award the first-half penalty which would have had the inevitable consequence of Gary Neville's dismissal, Evra claimed United prevailed "because we are a team of warriors". The Frenchman was honest enough, however, to add: "It was not a good performance."

The candour was contagious. Ferdinand conceded that United had been fortunate not only with Neville's escape but with the 63rd-minute spot-kick Peter Odemwingie sent wide. It came when they were struggling to contain an Albion team striving to add to James Morrison's volleyed riposte to Wayne Rooney's header. "Sometimes you need a bit of luck," said United's captain, "and we got some."

Ferguson also "thought it was a penalty" when Neville brought down Graham Dorrans, which could serve as the dictionary definition of stonewall. Now into his 70th year, the United manager is sufficiently long in the tooth to know that when you get out of jail, you accentuate the positives. And their credit column did contain two auspicious entries – Rooney's first league goal from open play since March and Javier Hernandez's burgeoning reputation as a predatory substitute in the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer mould.

If there was a touch of hyperbole in Ferguson's description of Rooney's contribution as "world-class", there were unmistakable signs of the sharpness and commitment missing since last spring. Ferdinand said: "Hopefully, his goal will shut a few people up and he can get on with playing football and scoring goals, which is what he does best. He has been playing well in the past few games. We all knew the goals would come because he's such a good player. Fingers crossed, he can go on a good run now."

Evra, too, talked up Rooney's renaissance. "Wazza has been working hard and showed his character to stay on the pitch [after Chris Brunt's heavy challenge injured his left ankle in the closing minutes]."

Rooney, who should be fit to face Stoke tomorrow, also delivered the corner converted by Hernandez. The Mexican's fifth goal from the bench invited comparisons with a certain Norwegian, who holds United's record, scoring 28 times after coming off the subs' bench. "Players want to start every game," said Evra. "But when 'Chicho' comes on, you know he'll score the first chance he gets."

In a less-than-vintage Premier League season United's spirit and ability to dig out such wins may give them the edge over less resilient rivals. This, though, is not as impressive a side as the title winners of 2009, when Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez were still on board, Neville's decline was not so conspicuous and midfield would never have been outplayed by Albion's.

At The Hawthorns, where Ferguson paid Albion's head coach, Roberto Di Matteo, the compliment of realigning his formation halfway through the contest, United's central unit was as weak as one can remember during his reign. Gabriel Obertan was particularly ineffectual and while United continue to be linked with Ashley Young and Charles N'Zogbia, it cannot not be long before Tom Cleverley's impact during his loan to Wigan earns his recall.

If United are warriors, Albion are becoming worriers, standing three points above the relegation zone despite having won at Arsenal and drawn at Old Trafford during their best half-season in the Premier League. In the engine room, Youssouf Mulumbu and the Scotland duo of Dorrans and James Morrison demonstrated the verve United fans expect of their side. Alas, they may not survive unless Di Matteo can sort out a glass-jaw defence and find a goalscorer.

Odemwingie appeared capable of filling the latter role yet failed miserably when a second Albion goal would have been one in the eye for Ferguson's men. Talking of which, Evra was asked who gave him his shiner. "His name is Nemanja Vidic," came the surprising reply. "He told me after the game: 'Happy New Year. In Serbia when they say that to someone, they give them a big elbow in the eye'. Thanks, Vida."

Scorers: West Bromwich Morrison 14; Man Utd Rooney 3, Hernandez 75.

Subs: West Brom Zuiverloon (Reid, 64), Tchoyi (Ibanez, 71), Fortune (Mulumbu, 90). Unused Myhill (gk), Shorey, Miller, Cox. Man Utd Hernandez (Berbatov, 60), Gibson (Obertan, 60), Fabio (Neville, 71). Unused Amos (gk), Evans, Owen, Bebe.Booked: West Brom Brunt Man Utd Hernandez, Fabio, Vidic.

Man of the match Rooney Match rating 8/10.

Possession West Brom 63% Man Utd 38%.

Shots on target West Brom 7 Man Utd 3.

Referee C Foy (Merseyside). Att 25,499.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project