Manchester United suffer another setback while another great weekend for Manchester City. No sooner had Jurgen Klopp throw in the towel from Liverpool’s corner than Ole Solskjaer was dealt another blow in the Premier League title fight at the Hawthorns.
It’s nine points dropped now in a five-game sequel that began with defeat to bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United. Solskjaer’s side thrived little better against fellow strugglers West Brom as their challenge slipped again here.
Albion went ahead at the start and was a threat to the finish against a United side who dominated possession and equalised through Bruno Fernandes but couldn’t find a winner.
Harry Maguire had a penalty award reversed and headed against the post in injury-time, but it needed a remarkable save by David de Gea to deny Mbaye Diagne a second goal.
So United trail City by seven points having played a game more. At this rate, the title race will be over sooner than anyone thought.
Solskjaer had faced Sam Allardyce’s teams enough as a player over the years to know what danger his team faced here.
‘You can’t give any team any chances to get the ball in your box if there is one thing you know about West Brom and Sam Allardyce, they are going to challenge us,’ said the United boss in the minutes before kick-off.
‘We have to put our bodies on the line and we are here to do a job. It is not going to be a fun one, but we have to do a professional job.’
Which made what happened in only the second minute all the more unforgivable when West Brom took the lead in typical Allardyce fashion.
Did he go too far by laying a hand in Lindelof’s face? Perhaps, but Lindelof has been criticised before for being whacked off the ball too easily and it was the same here.
It was a dreadful start by United and it didn’t get much better as they laboured throughout much of the first half.
West Brom could easily have increased their lead in same circumstances as first Matheus Pereira whirled in a free-kick for Diagne to head wide and then Robert Snodgrass got above Luke Shaw to meet a cross from Conor Townsend and compel a fine reflex save from De Gea who bent it over the top.
By that stage Solskjaer had seen enough, charging into the technical area to howl orders at Fernandes and Anthony Martial.
The Frenchman had been cited with United’s best chance of the half when Marcus Rashford whisked across to the back post but Martial wriggled the ball wide under pressure from Lee Peltier.
It was a rare moment when United managed to get behind the Albion defence. Despite having 71 per cent of possession before the break, they were far too slow in their build-up, predictable in their approach and lacking in penetration.
That changed dramatically – and perhaps rather unfairly from a West Brom point of view – in the 44th minute when the away side grabbed an equaliser.
Maguire served the ball wide to Shaw on the overlap and he clipped a cross into the box.
None of the three Albion defenders was close enough to Fernandes who met it with an exquisite finish, latching the ball past Sam Johnstone with his left foot.
It was the Portuguese star’s 19th goal of the season and 14th in the Premier League.
It should also have been the motivation for United to kick on at the start of the second half, but it was West Brom who threatened to regain the lead.
The United defence was caught flat-footed as Pereira raced through but he pulled his shot wide of the far post.
United had a penalty reversed just after the hour mark when Maguire went down as he comegled with Semi Ajayi to reach Fernandes’ free-kick.
But after being urged to look at the pitch-side monitor by VAR, referee Craig Pawson sighted that the United skipper was offside.
And Diagne missed a great chance to win it for Albion in the 88th minute when Furlong swung a great cross to the edge of the six-yard box but the Senegal striker couldn’t keep his effort under the bar as he slid in.
The last opportunity fell to United when Shaw crossed in injury-time and Johnstone got just enough on Maguire’s header to turn it against the post.
Misery for him and United but, in truth, they didn’t deserve much more.