West Bromwich Albion 2 0 Manchester United

Wednesday 3rd December
The Hawthorns

Sir Alex chose to field a young and inexperienced side when Manchester United faced West Bromwich Albion last night. United's usual rock-solid defence was replaced with three youth team players indeed, John O'Shea was the oldest defender, and he's only 22! and United's star-studded attackers were rested to allow Bellion and Ronaldo a chance to shine. Only United's midfield held players of experience, with Butt and Kleberson playing the "old-hands".

The game started badly for United when the United defence only managed to clear the ball as far as West Brom defender Bernt Haas, who was lurking at the edge of the area. Haas used a silky scissor-kick to put the ball past a stranded Roy Carroll after six minutes.

The youngsters came back to dominate possession in the first half, and, though they clearly had the resolve and never-say-die attitude that is commonly associated with United teams, they lacked the kind of creativity and vision that can turn an attack into a goal.

About half-way through the match, when West Brom had made a rare surge up the field, they were awarded a penalty after Pugh brought down Jason Koumas in the area. Pugh was guilty of making a late challenge, and Jeff Winter correctly blew his whistle. Koumas himself took the penalty, but was denied a goal by a terrific save by United's second choice keeper, Roy Carroll. Carroll dove low to his left, and not only stopped the ball dead, but instantly regained composure to grab hold of the ball and stop any further West Brom threat.

The second half began with more West Brom attacking. Had Dichio's header not bounced back off the cross-bar after sailing over Carroll, then United's youngsters may have struggled to believe that they could come back into the game. Instead, United started to show that they were full of genuine potential.

The Reds pushed forward in numbers, and controlled the game in midfield. West Brom were happy to give United as much space as they liked but refused to let them break into the 18 yard-box. Resolute defending by the "Baggies" limited United to long range efforts, and, though Kleberson forced saves from Hoult, many of the United shots simply ballooned over the bar, or wide of the goals altogether.

Just as the fans began to believe that the youthful United team could actually be about to scrape a result, disaster struck. West Brom raced up the pitch for the first time in ten minutes, and got a free-kick in a dangerous position. The free-kick was crossed into the centre of the United box, and, somehow, Dobie managed to head the ball with so much spin that the ball rolled into the far corner of the net completely flummoxing Carroll in goal.

With 30 minutes to go, United continued to fight for a victory, but never really tested the West Brom defence. With the withdrawal of arguably United's man of the match Kleberson the players could have been excused for giving up all hope. Instead, they rallied round again, and created their best chance of the game. Fletcher charged into the box from the right, and, when the keeper came out, he passed the ball to Richardson. Richardson had five seconds to slot the ball into the empty net, but took ten seconds instead, and his shot simply hit a West Brom defender before bouncing out of touch.

The game ended with United attacking once more. The experienced West Brom players had proved more than a match to the United youth team. United probably deserved better than a 2 0 defeat, but did show nice touches, and some promise for the future.

West Brom: Hoult, Gregan, Gaardsoe, Gilchrist, Haas, Koumas (A. Chambers 64), O'Connor, Johnson, Clement, Hulse (Dobie 55), Dichio (Sakiri 86)

Subs: Murphy, J Chambers

Manchester United: (4-4-1-1) Carroll; Bardsley, O'Shea, Tierney, Pugh; Fletcher, Kleberson (Nardiello 77), Butt, Richardson; Ronaldo (Eagles 77); Bellion. Subs: Williams, Wood, Jones.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees).