WBA 5-5 Manchester Utd. F.C.
in the 1960s and 70s - long before the idea of the PREMIER LEAGUE had ever been contemplated and manchester united were still a popular english club rather than a rich and powerful worldwide commodity brand - the red devils and west bromwich albion played some of the best football seen on english television. this year, in the final game of the season, the two sides revived the tradition and supplied some real entertainment for those who were at the hawthorns for alex ferguson's final game, as well as for everyone who watched the live international TV broadcasts or saw the highlights on MATCH OF THE DAY.
in december, 1966, manchester united visited the hawthorns for a match which saw united edge the baggies by a score of 4-3 in a seven goal shoot-out. it was some of the best attacking football of the 1960s and is well remembered as an early MOTD classic. twelve years later, the two sides contested a match that would become legendary in the annals of english football as well as one of the best games ever seen on the popular saturday night highlights show. this time it was the baggies who triumphed on the day by a score of 5-3.
upon their return to the top-flight of english football three years ago, the baggies emerged as the only PREMIER LEAGUE side to take points at old trafford, when they held the eventual champions to a 2-2 draw.
whether a 4-0 thrashing the year that both teams returned to the first division in 1976, or a 3-2 victory in a third-round FA CUP replay the following year, the baggies have usually done well against manchester united. fixtures between the two sides have always produced competitive and entertaining football. they first met on the 1st of october, 1892 when west bromwich albion and newton heath played to 0-0 draw at the old stoney lane ground in central west bromwich. only since 1984 has the balance sheet tipped in favour of the mancunians, with the baggies recording only two wins and three draws against sixteen wins for united since then.
currently, the baggies have won 40, manchester united 52 with 30 games drawn.
for this particular match steve clarke chose a starting eleven that was designed to limit united's opportunities and would press the ball in all areas of the pitch. with just 5 minutes gone, however, manchester united made the most of an early opportunity on the counter. with an albion attack being broken up in the united penalty area, the red-devils quickly broke out with a few slick, short passes. the move culminating when play was switched with a long raking ball to javier hernandez breaking down the right wing channel. he put in an easy cross for shinji kagawa, who was allowed to take up a central position unchallenged in the middle of the box to head home past the helpless baggies' keeper, ben foster. less than four minutes later, jonas olsson's attempt to block antonio valencia's low, hard shot merely succeeded in redirecting the ball past foster for an own-goal that put the visitors up by two.
then, just on the half-hour mark, and united had another goal. this time, it was scored from an incisive attacking move in the albion final third and a good finish by alexander buttner. united were now up by a score of three-nil. the match was quickly becoming a blow-out and it was clear that the gaffer's plan to contain their opponents was just not working.
realizing that they had no recourse but to attack themselves, james morrison pulled one back for the baggies with a little over five minutes left in the first half. with united carelessly giving the ball away deep in their own half, the baggies produced a quick incisive scoring move. youssouf mulumbu astutely played the ball out wide to graham dorrans who put in a low hard, cross to morrison, waiting in the middle to slot home the goal. they had caught the united defence completely off guard and unprepared.
i think that steve clarke probably learned an important lesson about how to turn a game around when it is getting away from you. abandoning his original tactic, the gaffer substituted a striker for one of the fullbacks, with romelu lukaku coming on for liam ridgewell after the break. within five minutes the gambit had payed off and the unstoppable belgian youngster scored to pull the baggies back to within a goal and it looked like game on!
but the the match took another dramatic turn before the final score was to be played out.
manchester united went up 4-2 on a goal by robin van persie within four minutes of albion's second goal, and javier hernandez made it 5-2 just ten minutes later. both goals came from low, hard crosses played into the box from wide positions. the cross came in from the right wing for van persie and from the left for hernandez, and both efforts took advantage of jonas olsson's tentative defending in what was probably the worst game that the swedish centre-half has ever played in an albion shirt. this was underlined in the 66th minute when the defender found himself on the end of a perfect cross from james morrison, which resulted from a short corner kick. unmarked and the goal gaping in front of him, olsson managed no better than to volley the ball hopelessly over the cross bar and sailing up into the seats of the birmingham road end. while there was still over twenty minutes to play, i'm sure that this was the cue for the first wave of early exits to make their move and start heading for home.
i feel sorry for anyone who did leave early, as the best was yet to come despite all indications to the contrary.
romelu lukaku had been nearly unplayable since his half-time introduction and the albion striker changed the momentum of the game when he scored the baggies' third goal in the 80th minute.
within another five minutes, youssouf mulumbu had scored again for the baggies who now looked the better team and the game was completely turned on its head from the where it had all started with manchester united's first two goals. with the pace at which the goals were now going in, an albion victory began to look a distinct possibility and the hawthorns faithful could feel it.
so it was no surprise then when romelu lukaku completed his hat-trick in the 85th minute, drawing the teams level at 5-5. the possibility of a baggies victory was now very real and the hawthorns crowd urged them on. had there been another two minutes, i imagine the baggies would have found the winning goal, but a 10 goal draw was how it ended. in truth, and after all the turns this match had taken, it was probably a fair result all around.
this was a really good way to end the season for the baggies, and is a match that will be remembered as a PREMIER LEAGUE classic and seen on highlight reels for years to come.