West Bromwich Albion beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford, to keep the race for Champions League football alive. It was West Brom manager, Tony Pulis’s first victory against the Red Devils and the result almost certainly ensures the Baggies safety from relegation.
West Brom set up their team in typical Tony Pulis fashion, with the middle of the park packed with 5 midfielders and Saido Berahino playing as the lone striker. United dominated possession throughout the match but failed to penetrate the West Brom defence, with most of their chances being shots from outside the box. The first half ended goalless with both teams failing to register any significant chances on goal.
The West Brom goal came in the 62nd minute, when Darren Fletcher won a free kick just outside the box after he was fouled by United defender, Paddy McNair. Former West Brom captain, Chris Brunt, stepped up and struck the free kick against the wall and the ball deflected off Baggies defender, Jonas Olsson, into the back of the net, to give West Brom an unlikely lead. The Red Devils were desperately looking for the equalising goal and they were given a golden opportunity in the 73rd minute, when they were awarded a penalty. Saido Berahino was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area and the referee pointed to the spot. Robin Van Persie was given the responsibility of taking the penalty but he was denied by a great save from West Brom goalkeeper, Boaz Myhill.
United kept on pressing for the equaliser but were kept at bay by the West Brom defence and in particular their defiant goalkeeper. Myhill had fantastic game and made some crucial saves to deny efforts from Van Persie and then Angel Di Maria. The Baggies managed to register yet another clean sheet, the ninth shutout since Pulis appointment as manager. The result means that West Brom now move to 40 points and are 7 points clear of the drop zone with only 3 games remaining.
Manchester United have now gone 3 games without a win and have failed to find the back of the net on all 3 occasions. They will have to find their winning and scoring touch soon because Liverpool and Tottenham are breathing down their necks and will want to capitalise on any further slip ups. Liverpool are only 4 points behind them and Tottenham are 7 points behind with a game in hand.
The Red Devils have to win 2 of their 3 remaining fixtures to guarantee them a spot in the Champions League play offs, next season. But their remaining fixtures won’t be a walk in the park. They still have to play an in-form Arsenal at home and then they have two tricky away fixtures at Crystal Palace and Hull City.
If Manchester United fail to win a place in the Champions League, then it will be a disaster for the football club. The club spent heavily in the off season and didn’t have to contend with the extra burden of playing European football, so a top 4 finish is mandatory. The pressure is now on Louis Van Gaal and his players, to get out of this winless slump and win their remaining games.