Jesse Lingard’s fine strike and Juan Mata’s penalty earned Manchester United a 2-0 victory at home to West Brom in the Premier League on Saturday.
United academy graduate Lingard struck superbly from 20 yards – his first senior goal for the club – to put the hosts 1-0 up seven minutes after the break following an uninspiring first half at Old Trafford.
Saido Berahino missed a fine opportunity to equalise with 15 minutes remaining, heading over unmarked from six yards out, before Mata converted from the spot in injury-time after Anthony Martial had been brought down by Gareth McAuley, who was subsequently sent off.
The result leaves United a point behind joint-leaders Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester and is their eighth clean sheet out of 12 Premier League games this season.
United named an unchanged side from the late 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow in midweek, but though they enjoyed 76 per cent of possession, a first-half performance without a goal failed to inspire the home support.
Mata did come close to opening the scoring on 18 minutes, curling just wide from 15 yards on the right side of the area after Wayne Rooney’s offload.
Though West Brom’s deep midfield and defence kept United at bay for the majority of the first half, the hosts had two opportunities to go one up heading into the break.
First, Lingard saw his effort blocked well by former United defender Jonny Evans, before Martial forced Boaz Myhill into a save with a ferocious effort from just inside the box.
But 20-year-old Lingard got his first goal in a United shirt after half-time in superb fashion, collecting Chris Brunt’s headed clearance to side-foot the ball into the bottom corner from 20 yards past Myhill.
West Brom’s only clear chance of the game fell to substitute Berahino, who miscued his header over the bar from close range having been completely unmarked after Craig Dawson’s weighted right-wing cross.
As the visitors pushed for an equaliser in the closing stages, Martial broke upfield with the ball, only to be cynically brought down by McAuley, who was sent off by referee Mike Dean.
Mata stepped up to slot the ball down the middle of Myhill’s goal, sealing all three points for Louis van Gaal’s side.
Paul Merson’s Soccer Saturday verdict
“The goal came out of absolutely nothing, they never really looked like scoring, Man United. Nothing happened in the first half, one shot by Martial that he should’ve put in the corner.
“Berahino comes on and he misses an absolute sitter, I saw him miss a chance at Watford earlier on in the season at the far post, it’s worse than that. A great ball in by Dawson, six yards out and he goes to head it but he heads it over the bar. It’s the kind that you lay in bed and think, ‘how did I miss that?'”