Manchester United fell to a narrow and unfortunate 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns, after playing for over an hour with 10 men following a Juan Mata red card.
United were forced to play for 64 minutes a man down after Mata was shown two yellow cards inside two first-half minutes, the first for failing to retreat 10 yards at a Darren Fletcher free-kick and the second for tripping the same man just moments later. Clear-cut chances were few and far between but, despite the Reds defending resiliently, Salomon Rondon grabbed the decisive goal midway through the second half.
Chris Smalling returned to the team after missing the last three games, as did Matteo Darmian, in place of Tim Fosu-Mensah and Guillermo Varela respectively. There were two changes in midfield as captain Michael Carrick replaced Morgan Schneiderlin and Jesse Lingard came in for Memphis. There were also three ex-Reds on the opposition side with Ben Foster, James Chester and Fletcher all named in the Baggies’ team.
United arrived in the Midlands high on confidence after recording four successive wins in all competitions and knew a fifth win would send the team level on points with rivals Manchester City in the race for the top four. That confidence was evident from the onset as the Reds controlled the frantic early proceedings. Anthony Martial, playing on the left, tried his luck from 25 yards inside three minutes, but his fierce drive was straight at Foster.
At the other end, Craig Dawson rose above Martial but the defender’s header went well wide when he should really have done better, before Saido Berahino had his shot blocked by Smalling after the ball fell kindly to him.
The first of Craig Gardner’s two wicked in-swinging free-kicks was well diverted away by Martial, while the second was headed inches wide by Gareth McAuley, but the referee’s assistant had his flag raised.
The turning point of the game occurred within a two-minute spell. Firstly, Mata was booked on 24 minutes after he was adjudged to have infringed a Fletcher free-kick, before the pair collided again moments later, with Mata tripping the former Red and being shown his second yellow card. It was the Spaniard’s first career red card.