Manchester United won an Old Trafford league game for the first time this season with a hard-working and underwhelming win over a West Brom side hotly tipped for relegation. The result saw the Reds pick up their first back-to-back wins of the campaign and took United into ninth position in the league.
Bruno Fernandes scored at the second attempt after Semi Ajayi’s handball to send Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side above Arsenal and Manchester City in the fledgling Premier League table. As mad as it may seem given United’s struggles to find top gear, we will be four points off top spot should we win our game in hand. Here are three observations we picked up on:
United finally breaks Old Trafford hoodoo in their pendemic era
Once upon a time, these parts used to resemble a fortress for Manchester United. Teams would often be beaten before they even came out the tunnel and United were beaten at Old Trafford once every three or four years. Yet this sluggish, labouring win was our first in M16 since the starkly contrasting swash and buckle 5-2 over Bournemouth back in July. Since then, Palace, Spurs and Arsenal have prevailed whilst Southampton, West Ham and Chelsea earned a share of the spoils. Against a battling and hard-working if limited West Brom team, United were, quite literally, given a helping hand but sometimes you have to grind results out and these successive wins will offer respite for a manager under seemingly permanent pressure. West Brom always prove to be obdurate and resilient opponents for the Reds and had won at Old Trafford on three of their last five visits, each with a different chap in the United dugout. The win is the most important thing and the fact we’re above both Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola in the league will offer satisfaction for Solskjaer. We don’t have to read or hear any more headlines on “United’s winless Old Trafford run” now, with that particular monkey off our backs.
VAR gets every decision spot on
An otherwise sterile and largely uneventful fixture sparked into life midway through the second half, with ref David Coote at the centre of controversy. Well, it will be said to be controversial but from where I’m sitting the video technology got every decision spot on – no pun intended. First, the referee awarded Albion a penalty after Sam Gallagher had tussled with Bruno Fernandes. However, the video technology advised Mr Coote to check the pitch-side monitor, usually a surefire way of knowing he’s going to change the decision. Replays showed Fernandes stabbed the ball away before the challenge with Gallagher and the West Brom man was already on his way down – so how can it be a foul? It wasn’t a clear and obvious error, and the right decision was made in the end, by hook or by crook. Then came the twice taken penalty. Ajayi may not have known much about it but his arm is in an un-natural position and, judging by what we’ve seen this season, it’s a stonewaller. United found out to their cost against Palace what happens if your keeper comes off his line, and Johnstone fell foul of the harsher clampdown by clearly erring from his duties. It’s the second time this season Fernandes has retaken, and the second time he’s found the net. Where would we be without this man?
Another former United keeper turns in a clinic
Is it just me, or does every former United keeper turn into peak Manuel Neuer when up against the Reds? Ben Foster, then Tom Heaton and now Sam Johnstone. The former Reds youth team man and Baggies no.1 was simply inspired, as he made a string of superb saves to deny and frustrate his former employers for so long. Johnstone is a good keeper, but rarely has he been THIS good. It seemed he was on a one man crusade at times. He saved from Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Fred and Fernandes on several occasions. United weren’t at their best, but undoubtedly would have won by more if not for Johnstone’s magnificent efforts in what, at times, was a goalkeeping clinic. Is it merely the sight of Old Trafford that brings out the best in our former stoppers, are the opposition’s coaching staff giving them Neuer-juice or is there something in the Salford air? Is it just us, or does this happen to every side when up against an ex-gloveman? Perhaps there’s a secret clause in their contracts – a “must channel inner prime Buffon” agreement that no one else knows of? It’s not even always ex-Reds. Remember the Copenhagen keeper in the Europa League last season? David Marshall always used to have a blinder against us. Keepers that often concede plenty the rest of the time but become unplayable when against Martial and co. Johnstone became the latest to join the long list.