West Brom 1 Man United 2
Manchester United tightened their grip on second place by beating West Brom, thanks to a double by Louis Saha. The Frenchman gave United an early lead, capitalising on slack West Brom marking to head past Tomasz Kuszczak. Midway through the second half Kuszczak was powerless to stop Saha’s clipped finish after a flowing United move. Edwin van der Sar made two great saves in the first half but the Dutchman was finally beaten with 12 minutes to go when Nathan Ellington headed in. Vidic started again in defence with Brown still injured and Ji-Sung Park was conspicuous by his absence.
Ellington’s goal ensured a tense finale, although the visitors were well worth their win. Saha could have a hat-trick when – after another United counter-attack – he had a close-range shot blocked. On another day Wayne Rooney might have had a hat-trick, too. But with the goal at his mercy on three occasions, he was superbly tackled by Martin Albrechtsen, Junichi Inamoto and then Steve Watson. The win moved United five points clear of third-placed Liverpool, who have played a game more than Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. And even though Fergie conceded to the BBC that Chelsea are sure to be chamions again this season, he can’t have failed to have a smile at the shock loss to Fulham yesterday.
Defeat for West Brom and Portsmouth’s victory at West Ham leaves the Midlands side facing another nail-biting run-in as they seek to avoid relegation for a second successive season. The in-form Saha had again been preferred to Ruud van Nistelrooy, who had only returned to England early on Saturday after his wife suffered a family bereavement. Saha was quickly into his stride, sending in a cross on to the roof of Kuszczak’s net. The Frenchman’s next contribution proved altogether more deadly as he drifted away from Ronnie Wallwork to plant a header past Kuszczak following Ryan Giggs’ corner. Giggs might have added a second when he burst into the box only to be denied by Kuszczak’s reaction save.
Just before that chance from Giggs, Van der Sar had to make two superb saves to protect United’s lead as West Brom finished the opening half strongly. The Dutchman flung himself to his right to tip away Diomansy Kamara’s free-kick and then dived the other way to save Davies’ powerful header. Kanu replaced the ineffectual Kevin Campbell for the start of the second half and the Nigerian immediately brought more vim to the West Brom attack trying his luck with a speculative shot.
West Brom manager Bryan Robson needed to make a further shuffle in attack, bringing on Ellington when Kamara limped off. But as the West Brom attack took time to readjust to those changes, United broke clear to extend their lead with a devastating counter-attack. Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo combined to release Saha, who after quickly controlling the ball, guided his shot past the onrushing Kuszczak Ellington briefly revived West Brom’s hopes when he headed in from a corner but West Brom never looked like scoring a second goal after that.
Although Saha took the glory, Giggsy ran the show. Really taking a shine to his new role as central midfield maestro….