United returned to the midlands for their second consecutive away game, on the back of the disappointing draw against Birmingham the previous week. With a new year dawning, United were hopeful they could put their 2010 away form behind them, and begin the new year as they meant to go on with 3 crucial points. Given the recent injury crisis out wide, United gave Gabriel Obertan a rare start, and a real opportunity to impress against a struggling West Brom side who’s good form early in the season had deserted them.
After a 2010 to forget, Wayne Rooney started his 2011 in perfect fashion by giving United the lead on 3 minutes, after some clever build up play from Obertan and an inch perfect cross from Evra, Rooney was left unmarked in the box to steer home the header and his first of the season from open play. Despite the perfect start for the reds, West Brom to their credit didn’t let their heads drop, and forced United into sloppy errors in possession. West Brom were rewarded for their persistence on 15 minutes, as Vidic could only clear a long ball to the onrushing James Morrison, who rifled in an inch perfect volley past the helpless Kuszczak. The goal appeared to give the Baggies a lift, who began to play with confidence and without fear creating some good chances along the way. United on the other hand were as poor as they had been all season, constantly giving the ball away, and inviting West Brom to run at our defence with alarming regularity.
The old cliche in football is that bad decisions even themselves out over a season, in United’s case however it took merely a week for the decision against Birmingham to be ‘evened out’ with West Brom the unlucky team. Even by Ferguson’s admission, Gary Neville’s last ditch challenge on Graham Dorrans deserved to be punished with a red card and a penalty, however Chris Foy waved away the protests to the relief of Neville and the travelling reds. United could consider themselves lucky to be in at half time level, with most reds wondering if we could play much worse.
United however sunk to new levels of of mediocrity, as again we constantly surrendered possession in midfield, and failed to get the fired up Rooney, and on form Berbatov into the game. Obertan in particular really disappointed and failed to take his excellent opportunity to impress in the first team, he was the first casualty of the performance as he made way for Gibson. United’s fortunes however did not change for the better, as on the hour Ferdinand tripped Thomas in the area to give West Brom a penalty, in the process ending his remarkable run without conceding a foul. Odemwinge spared United’s blushes by sending the penalty embarrassingly wide, and gave United the wake up call they needed to go on and win the game. United obliged, as they began to play with more confidence and stretch the West Brom defence which had conceded the most goals in the league this season. And West Brom’s frailty showed on 75 minutes, as Hernandez on as a sub for Berbatov, cropped up unmarked in the penalty area to nod home the winner and secure a winning start to 2011.
Although it was a very poor performance from the reds, it was a massive three points, and a great confidence booster to our away form given how vulnerable we have looked this season. It is often said that performances like this are what win’s titles, and as Odemwinge missed from the spot, you could visibly see the team transformed and really come to terms with how close the title race is this season. United will be eagerly awaiting the return to fitness of Nani and Valencia, and the return of Park from the Asian cup to give us the width we have been crying out for as we prepare for a tense run in over the remaining months of the season.