Yet another Bruno Fernandes penalty – another twice-taken Bruno Fernandes penalty – gave United a narrow win against a game Weest Brom, for whom San Johnstone was immense in goal. They move up to ninth, while the Baggies remain third-bottom and winless.
For the most part, United were easily contained in the first half, their passing and movement far too slow. Every now and again their decent players would combine for moments of quality, and Anthony Martial missed a huge chance to open the scoring after one such passage, but Sam Johnstone, returning to the club at which he learnt the game, made a brilliant save. And, on the odd occasion West Brom went forward, they looked capable of finding a goal of their own.
The game was settled in a crazy 10-minute period after half-time.
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First, the referee decided Fernandes had fouled Conor Gallagher inside the United box, pointing to the spot, only for him to change his mind after viewing video footage, then he gave United a penalty when Juan Mata’s cross hit Kyle Bartley’s arm. Johnstone saved his first effort, but a replay showed he left his line before the kick was taken, and Fernandes made no mistake the second time.
Though Callum Robinson later hit the bar, United hung on for their first home win of the season.
United have excellent attackers, so are able to score a goal at any moment. But they lack a midfielder – or two – able to set the tempo of a game, so against teams who sit back, they sometimes find it hard to rings fence the opposition penalty area and sustain their attacks.
Quite what Nemanja Matic was expected to add to this evening’s match is very difficult to deduce. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer leaving out Scott McTominay was understandable – he’s important to what they do and played 120 minutes then 90 minutes for Scotland – but replacing him with Matic was baffling. Against a side unlikely to attack much, Fred would have been adequate as the deepest midfielder, and Donny Van de Beek, a fine passer who is clever about the box and also a goal-threat, spent almost 80 minutes sitting at the side.
It is possible to get away with such pedestrian plodding – United just about managed it tonight – but Solskjaer is meant to be making United great again. Matic is not going to be part of that, and if Solskjaer keeps picking him, he might not be either.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Sam Johnstone (West Brom) Made three fine saves, various decent ones, and almost foiled Bruno Fernandes' penalty.
Manchester United: De Gea 7, Wan-Bissaka 6, Lindelof 6, Maguire 6, Telles 6, Matic 3, Fred 5, Fernandes 7, Mata 4, Martial 5, Rashford 4. Subs: Cavani 6, Van de Beek 6, McTominay 6.
West Brom: Johnstone 9, Furlong 7, Ajayi 7, Bartley 7, Ivanovic 6, Townsend 7, Pereira 6, Sawyers 5, Gallagher 7, Diangana 6, Grant 5. Subs: Robson-Kanu 6, Robinson 6, Krajinovic 6.
Seven of Bruno Fernandes' 14 Premier League goals have been penalties, the highest ratio of any player to score for United in the competition.
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16’ - Great save Johnstone! This is lovely from United, Maguire gambolling forward and finding Rashford, who squares well for Fernandes; he might shoot, but instead cushions a gorgeous set into the path of Martial, who assumed he's going to score, and fair enough: he's eight yards out. So he passes a low finish, only for Johnstone to turn a reasonable course of action into an error, diving to push away. Martial should've put his foot through it.
46’ - PENALTY WEST BROM! They attack down the right and Townsend lays back nicely for Gallagher; Fernandes challenges, Gallagher goes down, and the ref points to the spot. It's a really tight one, a bit of shin-on-shin action - there's not much in it, and I think Bruno got something on the ball - but given it's been given, my guess is it'll stay that way.
48’ - NO PENALTY WEST BROM! That's a big escape for United. It was no more a penalty than the shirt-pull earlier, but Fernandes did interfere with Gallagher, so I'm surprised he wasn't punished.
52’ - Great save De Gea! Pereira crosses low and Townsend is in space and lots of it! He chests down, drills low, and the keeper deploys his ludicrous reactions to kick clear.
53’ - PENALTY UNITED! Mata crosses, Furlong's arm is in the air away from his body, and what can you do. I don't actually think that's the new law - you could never do that - the problem is giving penalties for every infraction inside the box. It should be a direct free-kick.
54’ - JOHNSTONE SAVES! Fernandes does his leap, Johnstone looks to buy it swaying right, then plunging left to save. But I think he went too early! Yes he did! Here we go again!
55’ - GOAL! Manchester United 1-0 West Bromwich Albion (Fernandes pen) You've got to laugh (unless you're West Brom). Fernandes leaps again and this time goes high the other way, to Johnstone's right. I'm sorry, this is a mess - incorrect decisions were far better.
65’ - Aaarggghhh! Robson-Kanu does well in midfield, finding Gallagher down the left, and he rolls back for Robinson who opens his body and unfurls a glorious curler that arcs over De Gea and batters the bar! Goodness me, it never rains. I guess this is Manchester.