At Old Trafford cricket ground, the lights were on to signal the start of the County Championship season. Half a mile away at Manchester United, nobody had ever expected that West Brom would be the team to bring the Premier League title race to an end.
West Brom were 20-1 to win this game at the start. One point from their last ten games and no away league wins since August were the prime reasons for that.
But a goal from Jay Rodriguez with a little over quarter of an hour left gave the top flight’s bottom club one of the most unlikely victories of the season to hand a thoroughly deserved league title to Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.
Somewhere on a Cheshire golf course, the City manager must have smiled broadly.
The Manchester United players look dejected as Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard prepare to restart the match after the goal
Paul Pogba once again struggled to make an impact for Manchester United and was taken off before the hour mark
David de Gea and manager Jose Mourinho both look dejected as the former concedes a goal to West Brom in the second half
Alexis Sanchez sums up the mood of the Manchester United team as he struggles to his feet following a missed chance
West Bromwich Albion striker Jay Rodriguez celebrates after giving his side a shock lead over Manchester United on Sunday
The English striker pounces on a loose ball following a West Brom corner and fires a shot into the Manchester United goal
West Brom players surround the goalscorer Rodriguez as they celebrate taking a shock lead in the second half at Old Trafford
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea 7; Valencia 6, Smalling 5.5, Lindelof 5.5, Young 6 (Rashford 75 6.5); Matic 6, Herrera 6 (Lingard 45 7); Mata 6, Pogba 5 (Martial 59 5.5), Sanchez 5.
Subs not used: Jones, Rojo, McTominay, Joel Pereira.
Manager: Jose Mourinho 5
WEST BROM: Foster 8; Nyom 7, Dawson 8.5, Hegazi 8, Gibbs 7; Phillips 7.5 (Krychowiak 81 7), Livermore 7.5, Brunt 7.5 (Yacob 90+4), McClean 7; Rodriguez 8; Rondon 7.5 (Sturridge 85 6).
Subs not used: Myhill, Gabr, Burke, Field.
Goals: Rodriguez 73
Manager: Darren Moore 8
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire) 6
A week earlier at the Etihad Stadium, United had denied City their title with a stunning second half fightback. Here, as the rain fell, they handed it back to them on a plate with a performance as dismal and limp as anything they have produced during the strange tenure of Jose Mourinho.
At the end of this, Mourinho didn’t hang around. A quick handshake with West Brom caretaker boss Darren Moore and he was off towards the dressing rooms. Strangely, many United fans applauded him as he went.
This result will embarrass Mourinho and so it should. His team had given themselves a chance last week to move towards respectability this season, to at least close the gap a little on City. Mourinho himself had asked that his team delay their neighbours’ coronation as long as possible.
Maybe they just weren’t listening because this was terrible, shameful really. United made their former goalkeeper Ben Foster make two saves of note and they should also have had a penalty in the first half. But that was about it.
Now, as a result of this game, they face a fresh challenge. An FA Cup semi-final at Wembley against Tottenham next Saturday always looked like a tough game. Now it looks even harder. United must go to Bournemouth in the league on Wednesday and will surely rest players.
But whether Mourinho can lift heads sufficiently by the time they get to London next weekend remains to be seen. His issues with Paul Pogba also go on. Pogba was taken off after an hour here and should fret on his Wembley place. Still, the Frenchman can’t be relied upon when it matters.
Given what had happened at the Etihad last weekend, there was a slightly more upbeat feeling around Old Trafford at the start than there may otherwise have been. Nevertheless, United’s focus this week will probably be directed more towards next Saturday’s FA Cup tie and with that in mind United were rather lacklustre throughout against a team that will certainly be relegated before long.
Jose Mourinho gives West Brom’s caretaker manager Darren Moore a warm welcome to the Old Trafford touchline on Sunday
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba attempts to evade the challenge from West Brom counterpart Jake Livermore
Manchester United attacker Alexis Sanchez goes down under the challenge of West Brom midfielder James McClean
Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata fails to fire his side into the lead as his shot is blocked by goalkeeper Ben Foster
The West Brom goalkeeper comes off his goal-line and dives to save a shot from Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku
West Brom, now under the caretaker stewardship of Moore, were long odds to win this game at the outset. Fair odds, if you look at their record. Nevertheless there was something about them for the opening 45 minutes and United didn’t seem to have the wit or the imagination to break them down.
Mourinho’s team should certainly have had a penalty.
Craig Dawson’s trip on Ander Herrera as he moved on to a short Juan Mata pass in the 18th minute was clear and the only person in the stadium who not appear to see it was referee Paul Tierney. VAR would certainly have corrected that decision but, according to Guardiola, United were one of the Premier League clubs to vote against it. Interesting, if true.
Had United been awarded that kick, they may well have taken the lead and that may have changed things. West Brom would have had to be a little more adventurous. As it was, the league’s bottom club were ambitious enough when they did have the ball and arguably had the best chance of the entire first period.
Indeed by the time the whistle blew for the interval, there were whistles of another kind from the home supporters. They have seen a little too much of this kind of football this season. Too slow and a little too predictable.
They still have the country’s best goalkeeper of course and David da Gea made a super save in only the 12th minute. It was Rodriguez who led the West Brom break from deep and when he played the ball to the skilful centre forward Salomon Rondon on the edge of the penalty area, United were in trouble.
Rondon needed to get his head up and play the right pass and he did this, finding Jake Livermore on the right. With space to shoot, Livermore should have let fly with his right foot but instead chose to turn inside on his left. He still had a chance but he had given De Gea time to set himself the and when the low shot arrived, De Gea dived low to touch it away. It was a good save but Livermore should not really have given the Spanish international a chance.
Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea dives to save a shot from West Brom’s Livermore and keep the score level
Manchester United midfielder Pogba is shown a yellow car by referee Paul Tierney for intentionally handling the football
Manchester United star Sanchez appeals to the match officials for a penalty after Ander Herrera was down in the area
Craig Dawson of West Bromwich Albion heads toward the Manchester United goal from a corner but fails to score
Among the long periods of inevitable United possession, West Brom were able to engineer other moments of promise.
A header from Rondon was saved comfortably by De Gea after James McClean crossed in the 25th minute while a Dawson header back across goal from a corner just before half-time was begging to be turned in.
Against the bigger sides – even one as occasionally toothless as United – some of these opportunities have to be taken. A look at the United bench saw players like Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford waiting to get involved and it was always likely Mourinho’s team would improve after the break.
There were some opportunities for the home side early on but they were not clear. Foster saved point blank with his face when Romelu Lukaku turned on to a Herrera pass in the 19th minute. Then, in the 36th minute, Lukaku could have run clear had his touch not let him down.
United were flat and a little lethargic and during the interval, Mourinho made his move. Herrera came off and Lingard came on, presumably to give United’s attack a little more pace. Then, just before the hour, Anthony Martial came on too.
Prior to that, Lingard’s first contribution was to see a shot blocked by Dawson on the West Brom six-yard line. Then Lukaku muscled his way to the byline but couldn’t find a team-mate.
United did look a little more dangerous but Mourinho still chose to take off Pogba to make way for Martial. Whether that was tactical or to rest Pogba until next weekend only Mourinho will know but one sensed it was the former.
What is known is that the United manager had asked his midfielder for more in the run-up to this game and hadn’t really got it.
Pogba is brought off for Anthony Martial early in the second half after failing to make an impact in the Premier League game
Manchester United striker Lukaku makes a failed attempt at goal during the Premier League match at Old Trafford
The Belgian international looks stunned as he sees West Brom goalkeeper Foster make a stunning save to deny him a goal
West Brom striker Rodriguez bundles the ball into the net to give West Brom a surprise lead at Old Trafford on Sunday
Rodriguez celebrates his goal with his West Brom team-mates as they take a shock lead over Manchester United on Sunday
West Brom goalkeeper Foster, having made several outstanding saves to deny United, celebrates his side’s goal in his box
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic looks dejected as the West Brom players celebrate their goal in the background
So with less than half an hour to go and with rain pouring down, United had a different look about them as they sought to keep the title race alive for another few days at least.
Foster’s best save of the day arrived soon after. Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic briefly dallied over possession 30 yards from goal but when Matic eventually landed a deep cross the head of Lukaku, Foster dived low to his left to save brilliantly.
Moments later Lingard drove a strong shot wide from 18 yards and with 20 minutes left West Brom’s task was just beginning to feel just a little bit harder when they broke away and scored.
A break down the right from Phillips won West Brom a corner and when it arrived at the far post Dawson rose above Matic and headed the ball back down in to the six-yard box. This was obviously a West Brom tactic as they had used it in the first half. But still United were left flat-footed as Rodriguez arrived to nudge the ball in to the net.
It seemed at the time as though there may have been a hint of a shove by Dawson on Matic. Replays showed that the West Brom player had his hand on his opponent’s back. Matic should still have been stronger, though, and if the benefit of the doubt had gone the way of the attacking team then that felt about right.
United now had 13 minutes or so to save themselves from embarrassment against a team that had taken one point from its last ten league games and not won away in the Premier League since last August.
But by the time the clock ticked in to injury time, United had not created a single further opportunity. Foster made a couple of decent catches but that was about it. United’s league season was threatening to end very tamely indeed.
The fourth official gave them four added minutes and that was greeted by a roar from those who were left. A Chris Smalling header made Foster work one more time but the hero of last week’s comeback at City was not able to give his team anything this time.
Pogba sits on the bench as he watches his Manchester United team fall behind to West Brom at Old Trafford on Sunday
Jesse Lingard shows his frustrations after a decision from the referee goes against him during the second half of the match
Mourinho looks furious on the touchline as his United side fail to break down the Premier League’s bottom side
Manchester United star Sanchez falls to his knees in dejection on a thoroughly frustrating afternoon for his team
Lukaku and his Manchester United team-mates look dejected as they leave the field following the conclusion of the match