After having had their first say in the title race during the week, Albion will now aim to dent Manchester United’s aims of what, for most of the season, appeared to be an unlikely finish in the Champions League places
With trips to Arsenal, Spurs and Man City still to come, Albion’s hard earned point at Leicester on Tuesday evening will not be their last chance to influence the destination of the Premier League trophy. As it turned out, of course, the Foxes were the only team in the top four to avoid defeat in the midweek fixtures which mean that Sunday’s opponents are now level on points with their fourth-placed City rivals, albeit having played a game more.
Contrary to expectations, well mine at least, Tony Pulis kept his triple-S attacking front three (Saido, Salomon and Stéphane) with the only change from the starting line-up against Palace being the introduction of James Chester at left back in place of the injured Christ Brunt. While Leicester had more of the possession, the presence of a real attacking threat mean that Albion were always dangerous when they won the ball back, so different from previous away performances.
It was a good display from the Baggies, and a well deserved point capped by a wonderful free kick from the much-maligned Craig Gardner scoring in successive games for the first time since April. It makes the series of limp unambitious performances all the more frustrating – why has Pulis not done this more often?
Back-to-back impressive performance, an unbeaten three game run in the Premier League and suddenly Albion have pulled clear of relegation trouble and the top ten is in sight. Albion are now just six points behind seventh placed Stoke City.
Should Albion continue to play in the same vein for the rest of the season, attractive to watch with an attacking threat, a decision to replace Pulis would become more difficult. However, Albion under the Welshman have often had a two or three game streak during when they have impressed before losing a match and then returning to the dull turgid normality of a Pulis team, so I’m not advocating his retention just yet.
Sunday’s match will be another test for the Baggies, but one which they should approach with the same positive outlook. United are on a run of four straight wins and look to have discovered another impressive young striker in Marcus Rashford, but they have not had a great season. Van Gaal’s season has mirrored Pulis’s in many ways – the subject of frequent criticism for the style of play he has employed, but doing just enough with the results despite a feeling that the squad should be doing better over all.
Albion have managed a couple of wins at Old Trafford in the Premier League, but their last home win in the league was back in 1984 when Cyrille Regis and Steve MacKenzie were on the scoresheet in a 2-0 win under Johnny Giles. The Baggies did turn the Red Devils over in a League Cup tie in 2003. It was in Cristiano Ronaldo’s first season at Old Trafford but he was overshadowed by a bullet volley from Bernt Haas added to by a Scott Dobie goal in the second half.
Nobody present will ever forget the final game of the 2012/13 season when Albion came back from 5-2 down with ten minutes left to grab a dramatic 5-5 draw in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game. Last season, LVG’s team needed a late equaliser from Daley Blind after Saido Berahino had put the Baggies 2-1 up in the second half in a game that the hosts probably deserved to win.
LVG has had a few injury issues at the back to deal with in recent weeks, but Chris Smalling may return and Phil Jones is fit. He does, however, have the first leg of the Europa League against Liverpool on Thursday to consider, so he may be unwilling to risk players just back from an injury lay off.
With Chris Brunt cruelly ruled out for six months and Jonny Evans still struggling with a hamstring injury, James Chester may well continue at left back after a decent performance at Leicester. Morrison and McManaman remain sidelined.
United have won just one of their last seven away games in the Premier League, while Albion have lost just one of the last eight at home. If Pulis continues with his recent approach, I can see Albion getting that first home league win over United for 32 years.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
7 Nov 2015 – Premier League
Manchester United 2 (Lingard, Mata (pen))
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
20 Oct 2014 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Sessègnon, Berahino)
Manchester United 2 (Fellaini, Blind)
2 May 2015 – Premier League
Manchester United 0
West Brom 1 (Olsson)
Last win at the Hawthorns
3 Dec 2003 – League Cup 4th Round
West Brom 2 (Haas, Dobie)
Manchester United 0
Albion’s Record against Manchester United
|Premier League Record|