Manchester United impressed football fans up and down the country during their 3-2 Community Shield victory over Manchester City seven days before the start of the season, with Albion struggling to a 1-1 draw at home to Parma after a flat performance in their final pre-season friendly. These results and performances led to some Albion supporters justifiably predicting a rather heavy defeat, a pessimism not helped by our 6-0 opening-day defeat at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea last season. However, what was to follow was a very close game and a performance which certainly gives Albion fans plenty of reasons for optimism.
The game itself
The main surprise in the starting line-up was that Roy Hodgson appeared to go with what was almost an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, with the unpredictable Somen Tchoyi partnering debutant Shane Long up front. The rest of the team was fairly predictable, although I was disappointed to see Graham Dorrans left on the bench after predicting big things from him this season. There are still plenty of games left though, I suppose!
The first ten or 15 minutes of the game were totally dominated by United, and they took the lead during this period when Wayne Rooney received a pass from Ashley Young inside the penalty, was given time to turn and sent a powerful low shot across Ben Foster and into the bottom corner to give the champions a deserved lead.
It is fair to say that this goal woke us up a bit and as we began to see more of the ball, the noise levels inside The Hawthorns rose noticeably.
We equalised after 37 minutes, when Long received a pass from Chris Brunt after the impressive Tchoyi had held off Fabio with ease and sent a low shot under David De Gea and into the bottom corner to bring Albion back on level terms.
|Shane Long celebrates a goal on his debut and bringing Albion back on level terms.|
The general consensus of opinion at half-time was that we had played very well and deserved to be on level terms, but that United had a number of quality players at their disposal and so would be able to up their game if they needed too.
However, if anything, we had more of the play in the second half. We didn't really create any clear-cut chances, but had a lot of the ball and looked comfortable at the back, which is an unusual scenario for the Albion!
Despite this, as is often the case against the better sides in the Premier League, United were still able to find a winner with nine minutes remaining.
The fact that the winner was an own-goal by Steven Reid created by a former Aston Villa player in Young made it even worse for Albion fans, especially when it just seemed as though we would be able to do enough to hold on to what would have been an excellent point.
As much as we tried to find an equaliser during the closing stages of the game, United have got years of experience when it comes to scoring important late goals and then holding on to the draw a victory they have been able to salvage. Even Foster's presence at the far post for a last-minute Brunt free-kick was not enough to see us score a late equaliser, meaning that our season started with a defeat.
There were plenty of positives to take from the game, such as:
- The performance of Ben Foster, whose confidence was brilliant to see.
- Our defensive performance in general was more solid than it was during most of last season.
- Youssouf Mulumbu produced another outstanding individual display.
- Somen Tchoyi and Shane Long seemed to form a very good understanding up front in the first game they have played alongside each other.
- Most importantly, at no point were we outclassed by the side many people are tipping to win the Premier League.
|Somen Tchoyi was a constant threat to the Manchester United back four.|
However, there were one or two aspects of the performance which need a bit of work:
- Steven Reid struggled to cope with the pace and trickery of Ashley Young all afternoon.
- If we are being really critical, the defence could have done more to stop Wayne Rooney turning and shooting in the penalty area.
- James Morrison struggled to have any influence on the game, whereas Graham Dorrans might have been more effective.
- To concede such an unlucky goal so late on to lose when we deserved a draw was very difficult to take, and is a negative in itself.
Overall, though, there were far more positives than negatives to take from this performance and Albion fans will certainly not be too disheartened going into next weekend's match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
All pictures courtesy of http://www.wba.co.uk/page/Home/0,,10366,00.html