Albion against United through the years
THERE was a great deal of fuss when Albion made their debut in the Premier League in August 2002 as we were thrilled by the realisation that the Throstles were back in the top flight, where we have spent the bulk of our existence.
Still, we might have had an easier reintroduction to it all than a trip to Old Trafford.
It was a United in crisis apparently, Ryan Giggs noting in the United programme that, “Finishing third was not nice. There is a resolve to put things right this season”.
Sir Alex himself was all too well aware of what needed to be done, writing, “Set against what we have achieved in the past and the expectations demanded of us for the future, we know that we are already under intense scrutiny.
“Everyone knows that last winter was a major disappointment for all those interested in seeing success at Old Trafford, but what is really important is what we do about it. Talk is easy; it’s the action that counts, and as far as I am concerned I can’t wait for the season to start so that we can translate words into deeds.
“Playing football, even at the highest level, should always be a joy, and that’s the spirit I want to see bubbling at Old Trafford”.
There was precious little of that during a game where Albion defended as though their lives depended upon it, and created the odd chance that had United scurrying.
For Albion, Jason Roberts at one end of the pitch and Darren Moore at the other were simply outstanding as we frustrated Ferguson’s side in front of goal and looked to pinch a lead on the break, but as the game entered the second half, it shifted on its axis when skipper Derek McInnes was red carded for a tackle on Beckham in the 64th minute.
United seized the moment, throwing caution to the wind with a 2-5-3 formation that saw Solskjaer and Forlan introduced from the bench to give support to van Nistelrooy up front. It did the trick, Solskjaer popping up to shape the ball beyond Russell Hoult and in in the 79th minute. It was something of a hard luck story for the Throstles, but one that we were going to get used to over the rest of the campaign.
Some 20 years earlier, the atmosphere as United visited The Hawthorns was rather less reverent towards our opponents given that we still bore the scars from the departures of Ron Atkinson, Bryan Robson and Remi Moses just a year before.
Within “Albion News”, we’d gone all Spanish, the programme commenting on a pre-season tournament held by RCD Espanol, in which Albion were defeated by the hosts and CA Osasuna. In spite of that, we’d opened up with a midweek 5-0 thumping of Brighton at The Hawthorns after losing 2-0 at Anfield, Brett Gibbons sounding an important, if sour note, in his match report, saying, “The crowd of just over 11,500 witnessed a second half treat – what a pity there were not more there to enjoy it”. Thin on the ground crowds were to be the tale of the decade as we went on to flirt dangerously with oblivion.
It was less of an issue as United turned up, 24,928 flocking to The Hawthorns to watch the game. Full opportunity to boo was given, Robson and Atkinson getting hammered at every turn, the more so in the 36th minute when Robson had the temerity to give United the lead, following up after Mark Grew could only push a McQueen header into his path.
Albion’s second half response was superb however. Within three minutes of the restart, we were level, Gary Owen’s corner flicked on by Ally Brown, Martyn Bennett then ramming his header past Bailey in the United goal.
On the hour, we were ahead. You might not picture Martin Jol as the seller of a midfield dummy, but the big Dutchman did just that to shimmy beyond the opposition and set Brendon Batson away down the right. He picked out Peter Eastoe with his cross, Eastoe sweeping the ball into the net with a forceful strike.
Victory was duly sealed in the 74th minute, Ally Robertson’s long pass giving Brown the chance to run beyond Moran before finding a clever lob to beat Bailey.
Under new boss Ron Wylie, it seemed as if we were on the edge of a brave new world. Turns out, we were wrong.