United went into the game knowing that they had to put Thursday’s dismal performance behind them and, more importantly, keep the pressure on their neighbours.
Judging from the roar that shook Old Trafford with seven minutes to go as Swansea took the lead, the pressure is well and truly on Manchester City now, in what is a completely new scenario for Mancini and his men.
Whether this will prove a pivotal point in the title race, only time will tell. The numbers, though, don’t lie. United were labeled by some as dead and buried when they trailed City by five points but, as they’ve done time and again during Fergie’s reign, they have found momentum when it mattered, and now find themselves ahead.
Any celebration at this time would be premature, but United are possibly the only team that enjoys being chased as much as being the chaser. The hunger and collectiveness that runs through the team emanates from the man in charge and for all Sheik Mansour’s millions, a winning habit is priceless.
Ferguson, who rallied the troops in his pre-match programme – the ones on the pitch as well as the ones off it – decided to field Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck at the same time, with the latter deployed on the right wing. Scholes, Carrick and the in-form Ashley Young completed the midfield, with an unchanged back five from last Sunday’s winning trip to White Hart Lane.
West Brom traveled to M16 on the back of three consecutive wins and aiming for a first top-10 finish since 1981 when they finished fourth under Ron Atkinson.
The Baggies were off to a brilliant start as Keith Andrews met Liam Ridgwell’s cross but couldn’t direct it on target.
United soon settled into the groove, with Scholes and Carrick composed as ever, spraying the ball around the park nicely.
Welbeck teed up Young for a left foot finish, which was parried away by former United man Ben Foster.
At the other end, DeGea continued his excellent run of form with a brilliant save after Andrews’ free-kick had been deflected by the wall.
Rooney pulled away from his marker to meet Young’s beautifully timed cross, but couldn’t put enough power on the shot as Foster smothered the ball calmly.
The United number 10 quickly made amend, though, as he grabbed his 25th goal of the campaign.
Scholes chipped pass found Hernandez on the right and the Mexican cut in from the flank driving a low left-footed shot across the box. Rooney was the quickest to react, side-footing the ball home to give United the lead.
Albion started the second half well and thought they should have had a penalty when Odemwingie had his foot clipped by Evra, but they were lucky not to be two down as Hernandez crashed his shot against the post straight after.
Welbeck should have added a second but saw his shot fizzling agonisingly wide of the far post after the West Brom back four had failed to deal with a through ball from Paul Scholes.
United were quick to make their numerical superiority count when Young – the former Villa man was excellent today, constantly threatening Albion’s back four – was clumsily brought down by Andrews in the penalty box.
Rooney coolly dispatched the penalty and sealed the three points for the home side, netting his ninth goals in the last six games.
Old Trafford spent the next twenty minutes cheering. First for the introduction of Pogba and Cleverley – playing his fist league match since October – then for Luke Moore’s goal which put United one point ahead of City.
Ten games left, advantage United.