Tony Pulis did not just park the bus, he brought a whole fleet of double-deckers to Manchester. West Bromwich Albion came for a goalless draw and they achieved their aim with something to spare.
They may even have snatched something more. A few minutes from the finish, West Brom had their first shot on target. It came from Darren Fletcher, it was struck with real force and in parrying it, David de Gea tipped it on to his own crossbar. It would have been the perfect smash and grab.
Given that Manchester United were without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Chris Smalling, West Brom might have been more ambitious.
United may be unbeaten in the Premier League since October but this was yet another draw at Old Trafford they could ill afford. Jose Mourinho finds himself four points off a Champions League place and in the Premier League at least the games are starting to run out. When it mattered, Manchester United did not remotely possess the guile to break West Brom down.
Ravaged by injury and suspension with a fixture list that potentially gives them twice as many games as Liverpool, there were two significant absentees. There was no place in Mourinho’s starting line-up for Wayne Rooney or Luke Shaw. Neither is likely to be at Old Trafford for Mourinho’s second season.
Rooney, who came on to huge applause with 16 minutes remaining, may be allowed a dignified farewell but Shaw, who came to United with the reputation of the best young full-back in England, is likely to be bundled out of the back door.
The collapse of a transfer from Southampton to Chelsea three years ago, meant Shaw’s relationship with Mourinho was unlikely to begin well but he has not played at all since the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth at the start of March.
After a fractious, bad-tempered game that led to Ibrahimovic’s three-match suspension, Mourinho had reportedly been incensed by the sight of Shaw chatting to Bournemouth players after the final whistle. If displays of sportsmanship are a reason for being dropped, then the game is further gone than we imagined.
Ashley Young, who is 31 and not a specialist in that position, played left-back ahead of both Shaw and Daley Blind. It was an easy position for Young to play because his direction of play was nearly always forward.
Sir Alex Ferguson was watching from the stands. His final match as manager of Manchester United ended in a surreal 5-5 draw with West Brom and by the time the game was a few minutes old, the great man would have realised he would be unlikely to see 10 shots, let alone 10 goals.
Watching West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford was rather like watching Geoff Boycott save a Test match at Headingley. There was the same level of ferocious concentration, the same readiness to waste time – Michael Holding on his full run-up could have bowled an over in the time it took Ben Foster to take a goal-kick – and the same disregard for entertainment. “We’ve got the ball, we’ve got the ball,” sang the travelling contingent from the Black Country in a first half in which United’s possession was running at 79 per cent.
There was another similarity; the knowledge that a single error would bring everything crashing down. The way West Brom were set up, it would be hard to imagine them hitting back the moment Manchester United broke through.
There were plenty of times when it seemed they must break through. Anthony Martial headed Antonio Valencia’s cross wide from close range before the interval and in the second half Henrikh Mkhitaryan, sent through by a rebound, scuffed his shot wide. Marouane Fellaini did much the same a few moments later and almost burst out laughing.
However, the game was 70 minutes old when Foster had to make a worthwhile save, when Marcus Rashford looked up and sent a beautiful, dipping shot towards the top corner of the West Brom goal. Foster pushed it away with one hand.
Three minutes from time, he again denied Rashford from a free-kick and thereafter everything petered out. That Manchester United could have so much of the ball and yet do so little with it told its own story.
Manchester United: (4-2-3-1) De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Young; Carrick, Fellaini; Lingard Mkhitaryan (Rooney 74), Martial; Rashford. Substitutes: Romero (g), Blind, Fosu-Mensah, Darmian, Tuanzebe, Willock.
West Bromwich Albion: (4-1-4-1) Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Livermore; Chadli (Yacob 67), Fletcher, Brunt, McClean (Morrison 57); Robson-Kanu (Rondon 70). Substitutes: Myhill (g), Wilson, Harper, Field.
Referee: Mike Dean
Attendance: 75,397Reuse content