Edwin’s helping hand boosts Baggies

Sir Alex Ferguson dumped Wayne Rooney to the bench, then saw his
side throw away another two-goal lead against Albion on Saturday.
The Red Devils’ title challenge is in danger of disintegrating
before the onset of winter after a calamitous mistake from van der
Sar allowed Somen Tchoyi to complete a staggering comeback. Javier
Hernandez and Nani appeared to have put the hosts on the road to
victory with their first-half strikes, only for Patrice Evra’s
bizarre own goal to provide West Brom with their window of
opportunity. Yet the biggest story was perhaps that Rooney sat
through all the drama on the bench, the cover of injury he himself
had removed no longer available to explain an absence that was the
culmination of an awful six months. Even when he came on with 19
minutes left, it was not as a central striker, although he did have
United’s best chance of a winner, which was turned away by James
Morrison. If Rooney really was challenging Ferguson’s authority
with his midweek revelation that he has not been suffering from an
ankle injury, there are a long list of players who could be used as
proof of who wins such battles at Manchester United. David Beckham,
Roy Keane, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy have all been bundled
out of the club after Ferguson deemed there was no point having
them around and there is no reason to presume Rooney would be any
different if the manager felt he no longer had use for him. Today
there was no obvious fitness reason for Rooney’s exclusion given he
completed the full 90 minutes for England. This time, the only
conclusion to draw would be poor form was the determining factor.
The long-term repercussions will be interesting to say the least.
Ferguson’s decision to put Darron Gibson on as Ryan Giggs’
replacement when the Welshman limped off five minutes before the
break suggested there will be no easy way back for Rooney, who
celebrates his 25th birthday later this month. The United manager
is far too experienced to require justification for any of his
actions. He got it anyway on his side’s first real attack. West
Brom might have been aggrieved when Morrison was ruled to have
fouled Hernandez on the edge of the area. Much of the punishment
was self-inflicted. Nani’s dipping free-kick was difficult to deal
with. But Scott Carson should have done far better than merely
parry the ball into Hernandez’s path. With no defender accompanying
him into the box, the Mexican gleefully tapped home his third goal
of the season – two more than Rooney, whose only Premier League
effort came against West Ham in August. The hosts wasted at least
three decent chances to double their lead, which meant that
Rafael’s intervention as Chris Brunt waited to tap home
Marc-Antoine Fortune’s far-post cross was crucial in keeping their
noses in front. Relief came courtesy of Nani, who capitalised on
Nicky Shorey’s untimely slip, darted to the edge of the box, then
kept going to thrash Dimitar Berbatov’s astute return pass into the
corner. Through it all, Rooney remained impassive on the bench,
wondering whether he would get a chance to restore his own
confidence after an alarming slump which began with the ankle
injury he suffered at Bayern Munich in March. United threatened to
score again at regular intervals, although West Brom, winners at
Arsenal a fortnight ago, retained an attacking intent that would
not pay dividends until after the break. Given all the attention
that had been focussed on the £27million sharpshooter, it was
almost forgotten how abysmal United’s defending has been at times
this season. Two goal leads had already been thrown away against
Everton and Liverpool this season, and Fulham gifted a late
equaliser at Craven Cottage. Yet to see United’s advantage wiped
out in a six-minute second-half spell was still a shock. West
Brom’s first was bizarre and came courtesy of two deflections – off
Anderson and Patrice Evra – that took a Brunt free-kick past van
der Sar at the near post. The second was all van der Sar’s fault as
he inexplicably dropped Brunt’s steepling cross to present Tchoyi
with a tap-in as unexpected as it was gleefully accepted. Rooney –
together with Paul Scholes – were given 19 minutes to save United,
although he was asked to do it from the left wing as Ferguson went
for broke. The United striker had one chance, which Morrison
diverted away as West Brom clung on.