MANCHESTER United maintained their seven point gap but they were made to work for victory against West Brom today. We’ll get to the how and why and whether Sir Alex bollocked another official or not, but here’s the facts as we go into 2013 and our esteemed manager’s birthday on New Year’s Day;
Nemanja Vidic was back, David de Gea kept a clean sheet (those two things are not exclusive), Shinji Kagawa returned and Robin Van Persie is making good on his promise to guide us to the twentieth league title.
United started brightly from kick off and before the ten minute mark they were ahead after a nice play involving Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa; Young flicks the ball low and yard along the six yard box where it deflects off the unfortunate Gareth McAuley and into the West Brom net.
It was a big day for the nets of Old Trafford when you think about it. One was guarded by our own David de Gea who is as used to clean sheets at the moment as Harry Redknapp is to winning, that is to say not very. At the other end, Ben Foster stood guard for West Brom; a man who will feel he had something to prove to his former club and who has been in good form. He made a few good saves today to keep the score down, saving from Danny Welbeck early on and then just after the half hour he was there again when the ball fell to Young, from eighteen yards he unleashed a powerful shot and asked a lot of Foster but the ‘keeper was more than up to that challenge.
In the scramble following that save, Nemanja Vidic set the ball up for Michael Carrick to try and find the net but he only found Gabriel Tamas blocking.
It’s possible too much will be made of Foster’s performance, maybe a lot of ‘Foster vs de Gea’ arguments will follow but we were all there when Ben had his chance to be our number one and it is fair to say he battled with consistency quite a bit; for every quality save there was a Barthez-like moment of madness. There was one today, he kicked and slipped and the ball rebounded of Danny Welbeck, Foster escaped with nothing added to the score but on his first half performance West Brom would grow in confidence for the second period.
David de Gea was not tested for much of the first half but would need to be alive to everything after the break as United had failed to build on the good start and West Brom spied a point and possibly more from a defence that had certainly leaked goals but you cannot underestimate the effect Vidic’s return had even in this game, certainly in those to come. Returns like this are the type that wins you leagues.
Returns like Kagawa’s are note worthy too, he was a little minx today; he seemed to play in the hole behind Welbeck if you care about formations but importantly he was everywhere, making a nuisance of himself finding space and delivering the kind of incisive pass or cross that we’d been used to seeing before his injury.
He was replaced by Robin Van Persie as United looked to put the game to bed, a move which delighted the Old Trafford and gave the side an instant lift. In the final period of the game United kept knocking on the door, Foster saved from Van Persie after Evra’s through ball, Foster then denied Danny Welbeck’s curled shot but the breakthrough would come in stoppage time, Paul Scholes took aim and fired but found his effort blocked, he passed to Antonia Valencia who in turn found Van Persie; from the edge of the box the striker sent a left foot shot into the top corner and that was all she wrote.
There you have it, a game decided by influential returns; Foster, Vidic, Kagawa, a certain Dutchman returning to the pitch from the subs bench. However they happened they affected this game and you have to hope, Foster aside, that they will positively drive United on into the New Year and to May.