Manchester United’s pursuit for a top-four place faltered after a stubborn West Brom side frustrated the Reds in a goalless draw at Old Trafford.
Despite having over 70 per cent of the possession, the hosts failed to break down a well-organised Baggies defence, with ex-Reds Ben Foster and Jonny Evans performing well. Another United old boy, Darren Fletcher, actually came closest to scoring when David De Gea palmed a speculative shot onto the bar.
Boss Jose Mourinho was forced to make three changes to his United starting XI after the injuries to Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and the further blow that Juan Mata required surgery on a groin injury, meaning Marcos Rojo, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial all came in. In the first of nine games this month, Mourinho’s men knew there was no time for ‘fooling’ around on April Fools’ day as United looked to keep the pressure on towards the top and it was the Reds who had virtually all of the ball in the early stages, but with no real cutting edge to the play.
The first effort at goal came from Jesse Lingard on 10 minutes as the ball rebounded to him after good work from Martial, but the man who scored a wonder-goal against Middlesbrough could not repeat the feat, firing over from 25 yards. It took 15 further minutes for a slight glimpse at goal as captain for the day, Michael Carrick, fed Lingard but his dangerous ball across the area evaded everyone.
Martial then headed inches wide at the back post following an Antonio Valencia cross as United looked to unlock a stubborn, yet well-organised Tony Pulis side. West Brom who beat Arsenal last time out, frustrated United in the first period, camped with 11 players behind the ball and offered virtually nothing in attack. The second half could only get better.
Possession: United 75% West Brom 25%
Shots at goal: United 9 West Brom 1
Shots on target: United 0 West Brom 0
Corners: United 1 West Brom 1
United came out of the blocks with a sense of urgency in the second period, obviously under the strict instructions from Mourinho to penetrate the Baggies’ defence at any given opportunity and Martial so nearly did that, only for Craig Dawson to intercept at the vital moment.
Valencia then reached the by-line, cut the ball back for Marcus Rashford whose shot was blocked as was Carrick’s follow-up. At the other end, the visitors so nearly took a shock lead, but Fletcher had his shot well blocked by Eric Bailly.
United should have taken the lead on 54 minutes as Mkhitaryan’s shot was blocked and the rebound fell to Marouane Fellaini, but he curled his effort wide from 15 yards. Moments later, Martial tried his luck from 30 yards, but the ball fizzed narrowly wide of Foster’s far post as the Old Trafford faithful rallied the hosts.
Mkhitaryan then had a chance to finally break the deadlock after the ball fell kindly to him in the box, but Foster got a hand to his delicate chip and the ball was cleared away.
The game was crying out for a piece of magic from a Reds player and Rashford so nearly supplied it on 71 minutes as a rasping effort from 35 yards, headed for the top corner, only for Foster to fling himself to his left and palm away.
Wayne Rooney was introduced on 74 minutes to a rapturous reception as he tried to fire United into life, but it was the visitors who were close to shocking Old Trafford as De Gea so nearly palmed Fletcher’s shot into his own net – fortunately the ball bounced onto the crossbar and back into his hands.
Rashford then tried his luck from a 35-yard free kick late on, which Foster did well to tip wide, but West Brom held on for a deserved point as the Reds dropped more vital points at Old Trafford.
Possession: United 75% West Brom 25%
Shots at goal: United 18 West Brom 3
Shots on target: United 3 West Brom 1
Corners: United 6 West Brom 1
United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Rojo, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan (Rooney 74), Lingard, Martial, Rashford.
Subs not used: Romero, Blind, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Willock.
Booked: Rojo, Fellaini, Rooney.
West Brom: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom, Livermore, Fletcher, Brunt, Chadli (Yacob 67), McClean (Morrison 57), Robson-Kanu (Rondon 70).
Subs not used: Myhill, M. Wilson, Field, Harper.
Booked: Nyom, Livermore.