Manchester United’s shocking second half display ended in a fifth Premier League draw of the season, with the Sir Alex Ferguson’s men letting a two goal lead slip against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. The Reds will be thankful Chelsea also drew but another misshapen defensive display will cause Ferguson additional concern.
Patrice Evra put into his own net to gift the visitors a route back into the match, before Edwin van der Sar’s “primary school” error cost United the points against the newly promoted Baggies.
Ferguson’s side has now dropped ten points in the Premier League this season but surely none with such apathy. Wayne Rooney started on the bench but the striker’s late introduction did little for the home side as, almost unforgivably, the Reds allowed the game to peter out into a draw.
It’s a result that leaves the Reds five points behind Chelsea and three successive league draws against teams Ferguson would expect his men to beat tells a tale of a United side palpably out of form.
“It is an inexplicable result and obviously frustrating,” said Ferguson.
“I suppose there are two ways of looking at it. If we were in the middle of the league we could say we were still undefeated. For us it is not good enough.
“Sometimes it is better to be one goal in front than two. You keep your focus a bit more.
“It is not a defining result in terms of where the league is going to end up but we cannot keep doing that.”
Ferguson was suitably confident – or angry depending on your take on the situation – to leave Rooney on the bench. Rooney had publicly contradicted his manager over an ongoing ankle injury after England’s international on Tuesday, although the striker’s poor form gave the Scot reason enough to wield the axe.
Ferguson’s decision was also made more comfortable by the plethora of options available in forward positions. Not that two – Federico Macheda and Michael Owen – made the best fist of it against Sunderland. However, Javier Hernandez scored for Mexico in midweek – his 11th in 20 internationals – with the diminutive striker starting the match arguably the form striker in United’s squad.
It is not without reason Ferguson has been at the helm for 24 years even if these are trying times. Indeed, it took Chicharito just six minutes to justify his selection, with the striker following Nani’s long-range free-kick to tap home Scott Carson’s fumble.
The Portuguese winger doubled United’s lead before the half-time break, playing a neat one two with Dimitar Berbatov before striking low past Carson. United’s inconsistency this season is counter-balanced at least by the winger’s continuing excellence.
Yet Ferguson’s side should have wrapped up the match inside the first period, with Berbatov shooting just wide from distance and then inexplicably firing wide from Michael Carrick’s cross when the goal beckoned just eight yards out.
Not that Roberto di Matteo’s side was ever out of the game, with Chris Brunt denied by Rafael Da Silva’s last-gasp challenge when an away goal seemed certain.
Ryan Giggs left the action at half time with a recurrence of the hamstring injury that has kept the Welshman out of action for three weeks. If Rooney thought it was his opportunity then Ferguson had other ideas, with the perpetually ineffective Darron Gibson preferred and Anderson moving to the left side of United’s midfield.
The change did nothing for United’s rhythm. Nor, it seemed, levels of energy.
Evra’s own goal followed five minutes later and then van der Sar dropped a routine cross at the feet Somen Tchoyi’s feet.
The quick-fire double killed United’s hope. Worse it seemed to end the side’s desire, with Ferguson’s side seemingly happy to settle for the draw. Such is the lack of confidence in the ranks this season.
Rooney join with 19 minutes to go to little effect. The cameo was epitomised by striker’s heavy first touch and a sole, scuffed, effort at the visitor’s goal. In truth West Brom comfortably held out for a fully deserved draw. Brunt’s late strike from the edge of the area could even have won it for the visitors.
Ferguson refused to blame van der Sar for the error. He could hardly single the Dutchman out for criticism with so many sub-par performances.
“Edwin van der Sar has probably been playing for 25 years and was probably in primary school the last time he made a mistake like that,” said Ferguson.
“You have to just wipe it off the slate.”
With errors so catastrophic sometimes that is easier said than done.
United fans certainly won’t forget the team’s display soon. Boos rang round Old Trafford at full time. It just isn’t United.
Neither was the performance.
United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Nani, Carrick (Scholes 71), Anderson (Rooney 71), Giggs (Gibson 46); Hernández, Berbatov.
West Brom – 451 – Carson; Olsson, Shorey, Tamas, Jara; Tchoyi (Thomas 69), Morrison (Dorrans 86), Brunt, Mulumbu, Scharner; Fortune (Bednar 78).
Possession: United 50% – 50% West Brom
Attempts: 16 – 7
On target: 9 – 2
Corners: 3 – 2
Fouls: 10 – 7