Salomn Rondns goal secured West Brom a first win in this fixture in 32 years as Manchester United fought at both sides of the pitch
West Bromwich Albion have waited for 32 years to celebrate victory in this fixture and it will not take long for Manchester United to work out how that run came to an end. The postmortem will focus on the poor marking that allowed Salomn Rondn the time to control and shoot home from 12 yards out but, more than anything, the two yellow cards that Juan Mata picked up in the space of 158 seconds in the first half.
It was difficult to know what was going through Matas mind when he brought down Darren Fletcher little more than two minutes after picking up a yellow card for preventing the same player from taking a quick free-kick. The fact that Fletcher was inside his own half on both occasions , not remotely close to threatening the United goal, added to the sense of bemusement about how careless and naive Mata could be.
Several United players protested but Mike Dean, the referee, had no option but to brandish a red card and Louis van Gaals side were forced to play with 10 humen for 64 minutes against a squad who are difficult to break down at the best of times. In that sense the outcome was somewhat predictable as United, who had never genuinely looked like turning possession into goals with Mata on the pitching, struggled to create much and to compound their annoyance, the issue is undone by one sway of Rondns left boot.
It was the Venezuelans fourth objective in six league games and it all but procures Albions Premier League status for another season they are now on 39 phases and up to 11 th while delivering a serious blow to Uniteds hopes of finishing in the four largest. Van Gaals side are now sixth, three points behind fourth-placed Manchester City having played a game more, and once again it appears as though winning the Europa League represents their merely realistic chance of playing in the Champions League next season.
Van Gaal was likely right when he said that Matas sending off was the turning point in a game of few opportunities. He described the first caution, when Mata could easily have retreated but chose to stick out a leg to block Fletchers free-kick, as stupid, but the Dutchman seemed to believe that the referee should have taken into account the sort of player that the United midfielder is before showing a second yellow card. Referees, of course, do not have that discretion and it would be a dangerous path to go down if they did.
With so much of the match still to play, Van Gaal decided that United would be more effective with Anthony Martial up front, rather than Marcus Rashford, who had started in that role. Rashford shifted out to the right and Jesse Lingard swapped flanks to take up a position wide on the left, where Martial had struggled to make much impression in the early stages. Those changes, however, did nothing to improve Uniteds threat as an attacking force.
Albion were not exactly on the offensive following the end of Matas dismissal and for long periods it was difficult to see where a goal was going to come from. Rondn was full of operating up front alongside Saido Berahino while Fletcher, up against his former club, impressed in midfield but David de Gea had very little to do prior to the breakthrough.
The goal owed much to Sbastien Pocognoli and the replaces reaction afterwards a slow walk back to his own half a measure of the frustration the left-back has felt over the past 15 months or so. Remarkably, this was Pocognolis first league appearance since Boxing Day 2014, a few days before Pulis replaced Alan Irvine.
Pulis has a fondness for playing centre-backs right across his back four Weve got a full-back on the pitch chanted the Albion supporters during their FA Cup replay at Bristol City in January after Pocognoli was brought on as a substitute and it was only serious injuries to Craig Dawson that broke up that unusual defensive set-up against United.
Receiving the ball from Fletcher broad on the left, Pocognoli highlighted the benefit of having a naturally left-footed player in that position when he appeared up before delivering a fine centre that picked out Rondn. With Daley Blind in no men land and several other United players marking space, Rondn took a touch and swivelled before dispatching a low left-footed shoot into the corner of the net.
Van Gaals side started the second half brightly, when Rashford find his low shot deflected broad and Lingard, cutting in from the left, flailed a 25 -yard drive that skimmed the roof of the net, but the visitors were unable to conjure up anything in response to Rondns goal.
Pulis described Fletchers claim that Albion should now be defining their sights on getting to 50 points as nonsense, but he was full of kudo for his captain. Hes get that drive and flame in his belly that has perhaps been dampened out of his generation, he said.
Pulis was also delighted with the contribution of his strike pairing. At the start of the season, before the nonsense with Saido, I was looking forward to them playing together. Since Saido has come back in the two of them have seemed really lively and we appear a threat. I thought Rondn took his goal with aplomb.
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