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.