West Bromwich 1 Manchester United 2: Javier Hernandez steals the points

02 January 2011 12:16

Rank injustice? Or the kind of gritty performance that is required of potential champions having a bad day?

At the end of a desperately difficult afternoon, Manchester United marched into 2011 with their grip strengthened on the leadership of the Barclays Premier League having answered Sir Alex Ferguson's demands to step up their win ratio on the road.

Happy days: Javier Hernandez celebrates his crucial winner

Still unbeaten after 19 matches andstill at the top of the pile. But how lucky were Ferguson's men toemerge victorious after two dramatic penalty incidents and having togive second best to an Albion team who had lost their previous threematches?

Only referee Chris Foy will know why he failed to give a first-half penalty perhaps even a red card for Gary Neville's goal-saving foul on Graham Dorrans.

Fox in the box: Hernandez (second right) rises high to head in the winner

And only Peter Odemwingie will know howhe managed to make such a mess of a second-half spot-kick that wouldhave given Albion a 2-1 lead.

While the other contenders for thetitle looked on in anguish at West Brom's inability to do them all ahuge favour, Fergie's men rode their ample good fortune.

Fluffing his lines: Peter Odemwingie misses from the penalty spot

'Youhave to win matches,' said Rio Ferdinand. 'It doesn't matter how you doit, you just have to get the three points. We had to dig deep but theseare the type of matches which make the difference in the end.'

I don't care how we win, insists United defender Ferdinand Ferdinandand his team-mates do not need reminding that United looked veryordinary. Not even the boost of Wayne Rooney's first goal in open playfor nine months a stooping header from Patrice Evra's cross afterthree minutes could inspire them to turn on the style associated withtheir name.

Although Albion started slowly, oncethey had equalised in the 14th minute from James Morrison's thumping20-yard drive they played with a verve and energy which belied theirrecent form, scared the living daylights out of their illustriousopponents and on another day might have claimed a deserved victory.

The midfield trio of Dorrans, ChrisBrunt and Youssouf Mulumbu dominated first-half possession, whileJerome Thomas was a lively threat down the left and Morrison, as heshowed with his well-taken goal, could not be left alone for a moment.

In a disjointed United line-up, with Darren Fletcher playing out of position wide on the right, GabrielObertan was repeatedly caught in possession or gave the ball away cheaply, while Dimitar Berbatovhad one of those days when he looked as if he would rather be somewhere else. He was hauled offjust past the hour mark, nothing much having gone right.

Head boy: Rooney (obscured, left) heads the ball goalwards to break his barren spell

Yet it was the performance of Neville which caused most alarm to United's loyal followers.

The former England right-back, amonth short of his 36th birthday, looked so far over the hill that hewas halfway down the other side and surely about to be put out tograss. Could this have been his final appearance in a United first-teamshirt?

Pick that one out: James Morrison (centre) celebrates his fine strike

Neville had already been slow toreact to a cross-field ball that, fortunately for him, Thomas failed tocontrol as he closed in on goal, when he was at the centre of thegame's biggest controversy.

Caught flat-footed by Morrison'sthrough pass, Neville gave lumbering chase as Dorrans ran clear. As theAlbion midfielder steadied himself to take what looked a certain goal,the veteran defender bundled into him from the back, kicking him on hisstanding leg.

Referee Foy ruled no foul when the vast majority of the people in the ground expected a penalty and a red card for Neville.

The United defender escaped a sending-off at Stoke for a clear-cut second bookable offence, so thisinjusticestrengthened the argument of those who say that big teams and Unitedin particular get the majority of vital decisions. Only Foy will knowwhether he lacked courage or made a genuine error.

At least the referee was decisive in awarding Albion a 62nd-minute spot-kick when Ferdinand tripped Thomasas the winger accelerated away.

But Odemwingie's penalty was horrible,the Nigerian scuffing it wide in a moment that could have a big effecton the title race.

And 14 minutes later United wereahead. Michael Carrick's thunderous shot was turned aside by ScottCarson and from the resulting corner, Rooney's kick was met by theleaping figure of Javier Hernandez, carelessly left unmarked by theAlbion defence.

No penalty! Gary Neville brings down Graham Dorrans in the box but referee Chris Foy waved play on

The Mexican, in that one moment, justified being called from the bench to replace the listless Berbatov.

In a tense finale, United finished with Rooney limping down the middle as his team-mates succeededin doing what they had failed to do at Birmingham four days before. They held out for a vital win.

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Source: Daily_Mail