Bruno Fernandes’ twice-taken second-half penalty was enough to give Manchester United their first Premier League victory of the season at Old Trafford over a battling West Brom outfit.
Former United keeper Sam Johnstone made a string of superb stops to deny his old club, included a splendid save from Fernandes’ initial kick.
However, VAR intervened as Johnstone was clearly off his line and Fernandes made no mistake with his second attempt. The effort ended a wait of 324 minutes for a United goal in the Premier League on home soil – and that was also a spot-kick from the Portuguese against Tottenham.
It was harsh on the visitors, who were awarded a penalty themselves a minute after the restart when Fernandes caught Conor Gallagher. But after reviewing the incident on the pitchside monitor, referee David Coote decided the United man had just touched the ball, much to Baggies boss Slaven Bilic’s frustration.
The result leaves West Brom, who were without captain Jake Livermore and defender Kieran Gibbs because of positive coronavirus tests, still waiting for their first win of the season.
After successive victories, United are in the top half of the table for the first time this season. And, given the pressure he was under before the win at Everton on 7 November, there must be some satisfaction for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in going above Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the table.
It is only the second time Solskjaer has done that, and the previous occasion – after the first game of last season – only lasted a week.
United’s Man of the Match: @B_Fernandes8 ✨
Hear from the man himself after tonight’s hard-fought win 💬
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 21, 2020
Johnstone outstanding on United return
Johnstone spent nine years at United before leaving them for West Brom in 2018.
He still has links to the area, exchanging text messages with David de Gea as the Baggies made their successful bid to seal promotion from the Championship last season. Johnstone also gave £700 to a Manchester man during lockdown when the van he used to feed homeless people was burned out.
At a ground where he had never previously made a first-team appearance, Johnstone was outstanding.
He denied Anthony Martial with two excellent saves – the first to his right when the Frenchman flicked a header goalwards, the second to his left when Marcus Rashford and Fernandes combined to set the Frenchman up.
It also looked as though the West Brom keeper had the situation covered when Harry Maguire belted a volley straight into the face of Kyle Bartley.
Arguably his point-blank reaction save to turn away Rashford’s goal-bound effort after half-time was the best of the lot.
Given he had already denied Rashford once in the second period – and saved Fernandes’ initial penalty, albeit illegally – no blame for the latest Baggies defeat could be laid at his door and he left the field in deep conversation with De Gea, who must have appreciated his fellow goalkeeper’s efforts.
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) November 21, 2020
Battling Baggies have set the standard
Even though they had collected a single point from their previous four away games, West Brom didn’t travel north without hope given they had lost only once in their previous five visits to Old Trafford.
And whilst Johnstone’s heroics was the main reason why the final scoreline was close, Bilic’s men did have chances.
De Gea made a splendid low save to deny Karlan Grant in the first half and substitute Callum Robinson hit the bar just before Fernandes broke the deadlock.
However, Bilic, aside from irritation at the penalty decisions, may reflect on the fact his side needed to show such battling qualities on their previous away trip, at Fulham, when they were awful and deservedly well beaten.
‘I’m disappointed with the result and the referee’ – what the managers said
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, speaking to BBC Match of the Day: “It’s nice after the international break that you get a win. We needed that win at home. We looked unsettled towards the end even though we should score one or two more to have a more relaxed finish.
“It’s never comfortable against players of this quality. They had a couple of chances and David [de Gea] made two fantastic saves. Tight margins decide games but the mood is decided by the results.
“It’s up to us to create momentum. We have the chance to continue the good start in the Champions League, and Southampton away is a very difficult game as well. Hopefully we get a few more back and can kick on.”
On the penalty incident: “It’s the same with David [de Gea] early on [in the season] when he made a save but he was an inch off the line. It’s probably the beauty of Bruno’s [Fernandes] style where the keeper goes a second too early. Sam [Johnstone] has developed into a fine keeper.
“The handball rule you can discuss over and over but we get into the box and the ball into feet – so with VAR, a touch can be enough and it’s different to when I was playing when you had to be hacked down.”
West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, speaking to BBC Match of the Day: “We were unlucky. They had a few chances and we expected that. As a promoted team, we need a good goalkeeper and Sam [Johnstone] was really good for us but we had also more than enough chances to go ahead in the second half.
“On one hand, I’m really proud of the team. We are playing really good and we have to find the space for us to make confidence and belief. If we continue to play like this – and better – we will have a chance in every game.”
On his side seeing a penalty overturned: “I saw it a few times and for me it’s a penalty. There is no reason for Conor Gallagher to go down without being fouled. He touched his shin. In those few minutes, then it’s a penalty for handball [to Manchester United] when before it’s a penalty for a foul on Gallagher.
“They became nervous because they wanted a goal, but instead of us being one up it is hard to come back. We showed after that we didn’t stop believing or playing. I’m very disappointed with the result and the decisions from the referee.”
On Man Utd’s penalty: “If it’s for us, I ask for a penalty, but [Darnell Furlong] was unlucky. The new rules – no problem. But I have a problem with the foul before. They checked the foul before so I was quite confident but then it was no foul.”
Man Utd end wait for home win – the stats
Manchester United have beaten West Brom in the Premier League at Old Trafford for the first time since November 2015 (2-0), having failed to win their past two such games without scoring a goal (D1 L1).
United have won their first home league game of the season, ending a run of six consecutive games without victory (D3 L3) since July (5-2 against Bournemouth).
West Brom have failed to win any of their opening nine games to a league season (D3 L6) for the first time since 1985-86.
Albion have lost five of their past six Premier League away games (D1), failing to score in four of those defeats.
Bruno Fernandes’ opener was United’s first home league goal in 324 minutes of football, since his second-minute penalty in the 6-1 defeat by Spurs in October.
Since the start of last season, 16% of United’s Premier League goals have been penalties (13/79), the highest ratio of any team to have played in both seasons.
Half of Bruno Fernandes’ Premier League goals for United have been penalties (7/14), the highest ratio of any player to score for the club in the competition.
Manchester United’s next game is against Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir at Old Trafford in the Champions League on Tuesday (20:00 GMT). They then visit Southampton in the Premier League on Sunday, 29 November (14:00 GMT). West Brom entertain Sheffield United the previous day (20:00 GMT).