Manchester United dropped points in the Premier League for the fourth time in five matches as they were held to a 1-1 draw at rock-bottom West Brom, further denting their disappearing hopes of challenging Manchester City at the summit.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men extended their unbeaten run away from home to 19 matches, though it will be seen as another missed opportunity as United are left seven points adrift of City, who still have a game in hand.
United, as they have become accustomed to, fell behind thanks to Mbaye Diagne’s controversial early opener, but the visitors equalised through Fernandes on the stroke of half-time, making this the first season since 2012-13 that they have netted 50 times after 20 league matches.
They continued to dominate proceedings in the second half but saw a penalty decision wiped out and former United prospect Sam Johnstone stunningly tipped a Harry Maguire header onto the post deep into stoppage time.
38 – Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in 38 goals in his first 38 Premier League appearances (22 goals & 16 assists); only Andy Cole (46) was involved in more goals after as many games (33 goals & 13 assists). Gifted. pic.twitter.com/fhurXLI96K
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 14, 2021
West Brom enjoyed stunning start as they went in front with less than two minutes played, Diagne’s header from a Conor Gallagher cross allowed to stand despite the striker catching Victor Lindelof across the face with his hand.
Although their initial response was poor, the visitors were eventually rewarded for their pressure just before half-time, Luke Shaw digging out a cross from the byline that Fernandes volleyed into the top corner.
United looked set to edge in front when awarded a penalty in the 62nd minute, Semi Ajayi penalised for an apparent foul on Maguire, but the decision was overturned after a review.
Mason Greenwood replaced the anonymous Anthony Martial and quickly went close, his low effort well-saved by Johnstone, before Scott McTominay’s shot on the rebound was blocked on the line by Kyle Bartley.
For all of United’s pressure in the latter stages, two of the better chances fell for – and were wasted by – Diagne, before Johnstone produced a remarkable stop to deny Maguire and consign United to another disappointing draw.
What does it mean? – Title challenge looking an impossible dream
With City in such emphatic form and United arguably fortunate to hang on to a draw against second-bottom West Brom, it does not look good for the Red Devils’ chances of giving Pep Guardiola something to think about.
Solskjaer has previously more or less written off United’s title hopes, but that should not distract from the disappointing nature of Sunday’s draw. This is the sixth time under Solskjaer that United have failed to beat an opponent in the relegation zone.
0.48 – Manchester United amassed an Expected Goals (xG) total of just 0.48 against West Brom, the lowest figure for any side against WBA in the Premier League since Everton in December 2017 (0.46). Stifled. pic.twitter.com/BV8mtZSzfl
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 14, 2021
A Shaw thing
It was a game of few standout performances, but Shaw was undoubtedly United’s best player. The left-back created four chances and got the assist for Fernandes’ equaliser. However, he could have been more proactive with regards to anticipating crosses from the other flank.
Martial disappoints again
Martial is having a difficult season in 2020-21 and this was potentially as bad as it gets from the Frenchman. He did not have a single shot or key pass to his name, and his movement in the final third was practically non-existent.
United turn their attentions towards Europe on Thursday as they face Real Sociedad in Turin for the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie, before then hosting Newcastle United in the Premier League three days later. West Brom go to Burnley next Saturday.