What. A. Game. It's been decades since West Bromwich Albion last won at Old Trafford, and nobody was expecting anything different this time around. Manchester United, despite a wobbly start to the season, are still giants, and West Brom... well, they're not. Of course, the interesting thing about giants is that they're sometimes beaten -- but more impressive than a minnow fluking a win away to a title contender is said minnow outplaying them in the process, and that's exactly what the Baggies managed during their 2-1 victory.
The opening 45 minutes was relatively quiet, punctuated only by Anderson hitting the crossbar. That effort, incidentally, was erased from official records after the midfielder was incorrectly flagged for offside, so it never actually happened. That left the best chances all falling the visitors' way as they took the fight to their illustrious hosts.
That said, they didn't look much like scoring before the break, and they suffered a major blow when they lost Scott Sinclair early on. WBA were the better side, but surely -- surely! -- the defending champions would be able to regroup and punish them for their temerity in the second half?
Nope. Not even close.
Stephane Sessegnon served notice of just what United could expect from their guests when he demolished both Alexander Buttner and Johnny Evans on route to setting up a close-range shot for Sinclair's replacement, Saido Berahino. David de Gea kept that shot out with his feet, but defending like that leads to goals eventually, and so it proved.
The opener was brilliant. Morgan Amalfitano was allowed to run with the ball thanks to a weak attempted challenge from Michael Carrick near the halfway line, and he sprinted right through what passes for Rio Ferdinand's career before waiting for the goalkeeper to commit. Once de Gea was down, the former Marseille man lifted the ball over him and into the back of the net.
United were then gifted with a stroke of luck, the sort of goal scored by teams who don't really deserve a goal. Billy Jones fouled Buttner on the left, and Wayne Rooney whipped in a free kick which evaded everyone in the box. Unfortunately for Boaz Myhill, who couldn't move to stop it for fear of a shot or a flick, it was aimed at the bottom corner and duly nestled itself there. West Brom had led for all of three minutes.
A team which deservedly goes ahead against Manchester United only to be immediately pegged back doesn't generally go on to play very well. But precedence didn't stop the visitors here, and they were soon on the attack once more. Jonas Olsson came very close to restoring their advantage from a corner kick with a header into the ground that beat both de Gea and Robin van Persie but bounced harmlessly off the crossbar rather than in.
Six minutes later, Berahino put the Baggies ahead for good. He picked up Amalfitano's cutback and immediately fired a left-footed shot between Ferdinand's legs, past de Gea, and into the bottom corner. Despite the desperate introduction of Marouane Fellaini, the visitors still looked in total control.
They wobbled a little as full time neared. Fellaini scored from close range after a defensive mix-up, only to have his effort ruled out for offside. There were probably too many scrambles in the box than would be considered healthy for Steve Clarke's heart. But the storm was weathered, the visitors marched down the pitch, and when the whistle blew they could celebrate an incredible, precious victory.
Manchester United starting lineup (4-2-3-1): David de Gea; Alexander Buttner, Rio Ferdinand, Johnny Evans, Phil Jones; Anderson (Marouane Fellaini 68'), Michael Carrick; Shinji Kagawa (Adnan Januzaj 45'), Wayne Rooney, Nani; Javier Hernandez (Robin van Persie 58').
Goals: Rooney 57'.
West Bromwich Albion starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Boaz Myhill; Liam Ridgewell, Jonas Olsson, Gareth MacCauley, Billy Jones; Claudio Yacub, Youssuf Mulumbu; Scott Sinclair (Saido Berahino 13'), Stephane Sessegnon (Marcus Rosenburg 90'), Morgan Amalfitano; Victor Anichebe (Diego Lugano (88').
Goals: Amalfitano 54', Berahino 67'.