Monday 18 December 2017

Match report: West Brom 1-2 United

Romelu Lukaku scored against his old club for his third goal in four games as United held on for a third successive league away win.

Lukaku headed home his fifteenth goal of the season from Marcus Rashford's cross shortly before the half-hour mark and Jesse Lingard continued his superb recent form with a the second eight minutes later. Gareth Barry grabbed a goal back for the Baggies late on, but - despite late pressure from Alan Pardew's strugglers - second placed United again opened up a three-point advantage over champions Chelsea.

It was a strange quirk of the frantic December fixture list that the Reds returned to the Hawthorns exactly a year to the day since our last visit there, a 2-0 win on 17 December 2016 with a brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Reds started strongly with much of the ball but it took until the 27th minute to carve out the first opening of note. It was not a chance that was wasted, either, when the recalled Rashford's resultant run and cross picked out Lukaku, who powered home his header - a goal reminiscent of the Belgian's midweek effort against Bournemouth. 

The hosts threatened to hit back immediately and United needed Chris Smalling's intervention when he blocked well from Allan Nyom with Salomon Rondon poised to pounce on the follow-up. But the Reds then hit West Brom with a classic counter-attacking sucker punch as Nemanja Matic found Juan Mata whom in turn played in Lingard and his 20 yarder struck Ahmed Hegazi and wrong footed former United keeper Ben Foster. David de Gea saved well to deny Jake Livermore from distance at the other end, and Oliver Burke - on his first league start for the Baggies - narrowly failed to play in Rondon. 

Rashford half-volleyed wide and the Reds then almost put the result beyond doubt when Mata again found Lingard but this time he could only fire straight at Foster after a flowing and incisive move. Rondon and substitute Chris Brunt both saw chances fall their way, but moments later another sub - Gareth Barry - brought his side back into the game and set up a frantic finale. 

He bundled the ball in from a Brunt corner to halve the deficit for the Baggies first goal under new manager Pardew. That gave West Brom a new lease of life and United suddenly found themselves on the back foot as we came under late pressure. Jay Rodriguez flashed a header inches wide, De Gea blocked at the feet of James McClean and then saved well again to keep out Livermore's drive from distance. 

Lukaku dragged his late effort wide, but that proved to be the final action of the match as the Reds held out for another important and satisfying win.

Overall team performance: 7/10

United Faithful Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic. Proved his usual metronomic self as defensive shield but also caused problems going forward with his penetrative and probing passing. 

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