West Brom 0 Manchester United 3 match report: Manchester United stick to the script as Robin Van Persie loses the plot

Pressure eases on David Moyes but West Brom still searching for their first win under Pepe Mel

The Hawthorns

Manchester United’s supporters are under no illusions. Their line of “We’re going to win the league” after their side went ahead was a very neat piece of self-deprecation. But at least the vice clamps their manager a little less punishingly than it does Pepe Mel. The West Bromwich Albion manager, still without a win at the club, was clinging on to employment last night and may be gone before the weekend is out.

For a time, there was a lack of design and balance to the architecture of the victory. It felt as if the best of United’s players had been sent onto the pitch and told to sort themselves out. Juan Mata went off for the occasional hike, Wayne Rooney drifted deep into midfield and the spectacle of Rafael, Mata and Marouane Fellaini all waiting for the same Adnan Januzaj cross on the half-hour was testament to the lack of method.

The team actually assumed its best balance when Van Persie had gone – removed with a sorry shake of his head after starting the second half like a bull before a red rag, being booked for hacking from behind at Morgan Amalfitano, though avoiding dismissal for a full-blooded challenge on Chris Brunt five minutes later, in which he did connect with the ball.

 

There had been an element of “you’re in my space” – as Van Persie likes to say of his teammates – about the way he clattered into Rooney, cannoning him into Zoltan Gera minutes before the Dutchman departed. When he had gone, Rooney took up more of the advanced positions where he is a source of danger and United seemed liberated.

It was no golden afternoon for the Dutchman. Van Persie seemed to react to Moyes substituting him – to the extent that the referee had to direct him from the field, with the striker shaking his head. Moyes insisted later that he had given advance notice of the change.

Winning did not immediately come easy for his team. The first half was becoming another deeply frustrating exercise for a side who saw Ben Foster palm Rafael’s header from Januzaj’s deep cross onto the bar and who were initially crowded out by the defensive midfield pair of Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu. Fellaini created occasional pandemonium in the central areas: Yacob left the field prematurely bearing the scars from the Belgian’ studs in his thigh.

Januzaj booked for 'Hand of God' handball

But Pepe Mel’s generally resolute defenders were architects of their own doom when they allowed Phil Jones to casually step up ahead of their line and head Van Persie’s free kick past Ben Foster, just beyond the half-hour. There was still an endeavour of sorts about Albion after that, and certainly a strength about the way Victor Anichebe tussled with the central defensive pair for the future – Chris Smalling and Phil Jones  – which Moyes was employing for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson combined them in an FA Cup tie 14 months ago.

But Anichebe lacks a finish to go with his force and though Gera brought two low, sharp second-half saves from David de Gea, it was a day when you wondered why on earth this club have sanctioned the sale of three strikers. There was fleeting quality from Brunt, but the supporters who departed in droves before the end could only long for the quicksilver talent of Laure Cunningham – who would have been 58 yesterday and whose grace and poise were remembered before kick-off. Albion simply don’t possess much to make opponents fear for their safety in the final third.

Rooney stress victory shows United are a 'good side'

The near dismissal for Van Persie – referee Jon Moss seemed to be reaching for his pocket – was a bad moment for Moyes. Mel thought the Dutchman should have gone. “It was a clear second yellow. No, I didn’t speak to the referee. What would have been the point?” Moyes predictably rejected this. “It wasn’t a second booking. I thought one more foul could lead to something.”

But by then United had begun to throw off their anxiety. The second goal was attributable to more poor marking, when Rooney was able to jump freely to head home a cross from Rafael, who delivered a generally imposing performance.

The third was a work of creative beauty – something rare in United this season: a string of 18 passes which concluded with Rooney  despatching a pass from the edge of the area which let Danny Welbeck, on forVan Persie, to drop a shoulder on Jonas Olsson and clip a right-footed goal.

It is now 59 days since the Spanish manager arrived here and the stadium poster advertising “An Evening with Pepe Mel” on 26 March looked optimistic for man whose last win was on 29 September with Real Betis. He has clearly heeded his own players’ pleas to tone down his pressing creed, though they subsequently lacked intensity. “The only thing I’m thinking of is working tomorrow,” Mel reflected in Spanish last night, switching into English to deliver the essential football truth that Moyes will agree with. “We need to win only. We need eleven professional men.”

Line-ups:

West Bromwich (4-2-3-1): Foster; Reid (Sessegnon, 60), McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob (Morrison, 40), Malumbu; Amalfitano, Brunt (Berahino, 66), Gera; Anichebe.

Manchester Utd (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael (Vidic, 87), Jones, Smalling, Evra; Carrick, Fellaini; Januzaj (Kagawa, 76), Rooney, Mata; Van Persie (Welbeck, 63).

Referee: Jon Moss.

Man of the match: Rafael (Manchester United)

Match rating: 7/10

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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen