Manchester United made far harder work of this away win than was necessary, surging out to a two-goal lead then seeing West Bromwich Albion score late and almost draw level.
Alan Pardew’s side were ultimately too limited to make the pressure count, and United’s poor second half means that this cannot not be filed away as an efficient performance. Yet a victory is a victory — and, at this stage, anything which keeps them vaguely within reach of the fast-vanishing Manchester City must be welcomed.
Jesse Lingard, not long after his birthday, celebrated with what turned out to be the matchwinning goal. Romelu Lukaku looked purposeful in attack, and after a slow start Nemanja Matic emerged to dominate the midfield.
Ander Herrera and Juan Mata were strangely ineffectual, while Chris Smalling and then Marcos Rojo were uncertain at the back.
Manager rating out of 10
6 — Jose Mourinho again left Henrikh Mkhitaryan out of the squad, a questionable move given the lack of United’s attacking drive in the second half. His team invited pressure to which they almost succumbed, and the overall tenor of this game was disappointing.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK David De Gea, 7 — One of United’s stronger performers, again. Came confidently for the ball when the goalmouth was an area of chaos late on, and saved smartly whenever called upon.
DF Antonio Valencia, 6 — His workrate was beyond reproach. Yet, before he was withdrawn with a hamstring injury, he again betrayed a lack of creativity which at times hinders his team.
DF Phil Jones, 6 — Dealt efficiently if not always elegantly with most attacking threats, particularly with the home side’s speed on the break.
DF Chris Smalling, 6 — An uneven performance; his second half was as unsettled as his first half was authoritative. In the first, he stepped calmly across to make important clearances, and in the second he lacked composure in a crowded area.
DF Ashley Young, 6 — His delivery was below its best in this game, and he failed to make significant inroads down his flank. A far quieter game than he has enjoyed in recent weeks.
MF Nemanja Matic, 7 — After a slow start, featuring some carelessly mislaid possession, Matic emerged as the dominant midfielder, linking defence and attack with ease and stepping forward whenever necessary.
MF Ander Herrera, 5 — A fitful presence alongside Matic, failing again to pass effectively into the final third and too often reacting to the play rather than making it. This isn’t the first time he has struggled away at West Bromwich Albion, but his recent performances make this poor showing look like an unfortunate trend.
MF Juan Mata, 5 — Looked short of ideas and lacking in sharpness, unable to orchestrate the play from a deep-lying position. The game seemed to pass him by when United were in attack, and though he was tenacious when in defence this is far from his best guise.
MF Jesse Lingard, 7 — Pressed forward with purpose, keeping opposition defenders busy high up the pitch with his fine movement off the ball. He was rewarded with what turned out to be the winning goal. His confidence seems as high as it has been in some time.
MF Marcus Rashford, 6 — A frustrating afternoon for him, where he received little support on his flank. Managed a superb assist for Lukaku but otherwise seemed largely out of sync with the rest of the attack.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 7 — Scored the game’s opener with a beautifully angled header against one of his former clubs and led the line with intelligence throughout, regularly dropping deep and spreading the play. Could — should — have scored a second, but this was generally a strong outing from him.
DF Marcos Rojo, 5 (for Valencia, 65) — Looked out of sorts — perhaps due to a lack of match practice — and his poor positioning and control almost cost United dearly. Was simply lacking sharpness and United almost paid the price for his introduction.
MF Anthony Martial, n/a (for Rashford, 79) — Barely had time to impress but still did so, with one notable piece of brilliant control and movement. Too good to be rested for too long.