Manchester City clinch Premier League title after Manchester United suffer shock defeat by West Brom

Manchester United 0-1 West Brom: Jay Rodriguez’s second-half header stunned Old Trafford and sealed the title for United’s fierce rivals Manchester City with five games to spare

Mark Critchley
Old Trafford
Sunday 15 April 2018 18:09
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West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez celebrates the only goal of the game
West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez celebrates the only goal of the game

Eight days on from postponing Manchester City’s coronation, Manchester United placed the crown on their head.

All the hope of a stronger challenge next season inspired by last weekend’s derby win was undone on Sunday as Jose Mourinho’s side contrived to suffer defeat against all-but-relegated West Bromwich Albion, the top flight’s worst team this year by some distance, one without a win on the road since August.

If last Saturday’s victory at the Etihad took many by surprise, this was a far more familiar performance and a prime example of the pedestrian football that is responsible for the 16-point gap between United and Pep Guardiola’s champions.

Guardiola chose to play golf instead of watching this game and for the first 73 minutes, it seemed as though he had the right idea. Yet as Jay Rodriguez stooped low to score Albion’s winning goal, you wondered whether somewhere out there on a par 3, one man was wishing he had witnessed it.

In fairness, nobody had expected an Albion victory, despite them earning two wins and a draw from their last four visits here. Only Steve Kean’s Blackburn Rovers, back in late 2011, had ever started the day bottom of the Premier League table and ended it in possession of three points from Old Trafford.

The travelling support seemed aware of this and spent the game’s early stages revelling in gallows humour. Three minutes in, they lamented: “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. We’re going to Shrewsbury. Que sera, sera.”

But a happy fatalism can set you free, and though West Bromwich’s dogged defensive work was hardly imbued with joie de vivre, there was a certain resilience and spirit to their play that was absent under Alan Pardew. Indeed, if their hosts did not have the world’s best goalkeeper, they may have led even earlier.

After picking Ander Herrera’s pocket in midfield, Rodriguez initiated a rare Albion break forward which ended with Jake Livermore bearing down on goal and forcing a fine, low save from David de Gea. It was the type of stop that seems to come naturally to the Spaniard but one that a lesser goalkeeper may not have made.

Jay Rodriguez steers a header home

Herrera was in the thick of it again a few minutes later when felled by Craig Dawson inside the Albion area, but referee Paul Tierney waved away United’s legitimate protests for a penalty. In the same move, Ben Foster denied Romelu Lukaku with his face, blocking the Belgian’s shot on the turn.

That was the best first-half opportunity created by a blunt United attack bereft of ideas and often getting in each other’s way. Their struggles to pick apart Albion’s well-organised backline reached a nadir when Paul Pogba brazenly attempted to slap a over-hit cross into the net. The midfielder received a deserved a yellow card.

It would not be the worst moment of Pogba’s afternoon, though. That came after the break, when, in a bid to simplify United’s complex and impotent play, Mourinho chose to withdraw him before the hour mark. It was the latest dose of tough love for United’s record signing, a week on from his derby heroics.

Ben Foster celebrates West Brom’s goal (Getty)

Anthony Martial came on Pogba’s place to the delight of an increasingly-frustrated Old Trafford crowd, but he too struggled to find away through the disciplined rearguard organised by Albion caretaker Darren Moore. Lukaku came closest for the hosts after the break but Foster’s reactions were quick enough to turn away his powerful header.

United had still failed to fashion a clear-cut chance when the best opportunity of the afternoon fell to Albion. Chris Brunt’s corner from the right was poorly defended, with Dawson able to beat Nemanja Matic aerially and send the ball back across the face of goal. The unmarked Rodriguez stooped low to nod into the ground and past De Gea.

“Manchester City, we’ve won you the league,” chanted an away end that could scarcely believe what it had seen during the final quarter-of-an-hour, as United searched in vain for a face-saving equaliser. Once the final whistle sounded, a cheer went up in that corner of Old Trafford, then echoed around a Cheshire golf course.​

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