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Football | Barclays Premier League

Fergie all smiles as United sink Baggies



Alex Ferguson had no cause for complaint as Manchester United ended the year seven points clear at the top of the Premier League after a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

The United manager, who was involved in controversial exchanges with the officials during the last game at Old Trafford, saw an early Gareth McAuley own goal and a late effort from substitute Robin van Persie secure victory.

And, after his heated exchanges on the touchline during United's 4-3 win over Newcastle United on Wednesday, Ferguson even managed to exchange jokes with the assistant referee as he masterminded another United win and a rare clean sheet.

United, who had trailed in five of their previous nine home league games this season, at least had the comfort of being gifted an early lead on this occasion.

Ferguson had gambled by starting with van Persie and Javier Hernandez –two of the central figures of the thrilling win over Newcastle – on the bench.

The fact that two players recalled for this occasion, Young and Shinji Kagawa, played a key role in the goal was therefore vindication for his selection policy.

Young was the creator of United's ninth-minute opener, exchanging passes with Kagawa and drilling in a low cross that struck the leg of McAuley and flew past his deceived goalkeeper Ben Foster.

Albion had started brightly, with a Shane Long break halted by Michael Carrick and an unsuccessful penalty appeal by the same West Brom forward after Chris Smalling's robust challenge.

United responded and were spurred on by the sight of skipper Nemanja Vidic – back to full fitness after missing much of the season with a knee injury – rising to power over a header from Young's eighth-minute corner.

The goal soon followed and Danny Welbeck then tested Foster with an 18-yard shot that the former United goalkeeper smothered.

Young headed wide from Welbeck's miscued shot and the former Aston Villa winger came even closer to doubling the lead after 32 minutes following Antonio Valencia's sprint down the right.

Valencia picked out Young with his cut-back and the England forward's 18-yard drive was tipped onto the bar by Foster's impressive reflex save.

The subsequent corner opened up yet another chance, with Carrick's goal-bound drive being hacked to safety by Gabriel Tamas, just in front of his goal-line.

Peter Odemwingie shot into the side-netting on the break in one of the few openings for West Brom.

At the other end, Foster almost gifted United a second when his clearance succeeded only in striking Welbeck, the ball flying behind for a goal-kick.

United opened the second half with a couple of patient moves before Chris Brunt reminded them that they really needed the cushion of a second goal.

Having been given space and time 25 yards out, the Albion midfielder produced a solid shot that David de Gea moved sharply to gather.

There was also a threatening McAuley header from a set-piece as Albion grew in confidence, while Valencia saw a strong effort deflected behind and then shot narrowly over from a tight angle.

Ferguson threw on van Persie, in an attempt to avoid an anxious final 25 minutes, but United were almost undone when McAuley sent a header against the bar from a Brunt corner in the 70th minute.

Van Persie might have eased the growing nerves around Old Trafford eight minutes from time when he was played into the Albion area by Patrice Evra, only to see his shot kept out by Foster's outstretched leg.

Foster was equally impressive in denying Welbeck's curling shot a minute from the end but, with two seconds left in normal time, van Persie took a short pass from Valencia and found room to send a superb finish into the top-left corner.

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