Albion, managed by former United legend Bryan Robson, managed to control their hosts for the opening half hour until Rooney was accidentally involved in injuring Paul Robinson, the visiting defender who had performed an admirable man-marking job on him until that point but who was stretchered off the field after a blow to his head.
Within a minute of Robinson’s departure, however, Paul Scholes had shot United into the lead and further goals from Rio Ferdinand and Ruud van Nistelrooy turned the afternoon into three routine points for United.
After a dismal recent run, and humbling Champions League exit at Benfica, it was more than enough to ensure that United fell no further behind Chelsea, 3-2 winners over Fulham before United even kicked off.
“I knew the Chelsea game was 2-2 at one stage but I was concentrating on what we were going to do,” said manager Alex Ferguson. “There is not much we can do about their results we just hope something will happen with Chelsea and we want to be the closest team to them if that happens. We hope we’ve come out of our bad spell.
They are also enjoying a large slice of luck, as they did when Robinson suffered his 34th minute injury.
Robson, while not blaming Rooney directly for the concussion suffered by his player, had no doubt, however, that the concussion suffered by Robinson was the turning point of the contest.
“Paul was part of our game plan,” said Robson. “We switched off as soon as he went off. Just before that you could tell that Rooney was getting frustrated because Paul was getting to him. Wayne Rooney pushed him in the back and his head went into (Thomas) Gaardsoe’s hip. That summed things up. Rooney has been running the show for United and we wanted to keep him out of the game.”
Robinson’s absence clearly unsettled the visitors who had coped well with everything United had thrown at them until that point.
But, following Albion’s enforced reshuffle, United’s first attack saw Park slip the ball wide for Ferdinand, overlapping on the right, and the centre-half’s cross was touched by Park into the path of Scholes who produced a perfectly-placed, unstoppable shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the Albion goal.
Halfway through the six minutes added on for Robinson’s injury, United doubled their lead after Ruud van Nistelrooy won a right-hand corner. Ryan Giggs’ centre was met by Ferdinand who acrobatically steered a superb header into the top corner of the opposition net.
The second-half opened with van Nistelrooy having a near post shot blocked by Gaardsoe and former United pair Jonathan Greening and Ronnie Wallwork combined with the former crossing for the latter to head at Edwin van der Sar but Albion would never look remotely like scoring thereafter.
Instead, Rooney was unlucky not to have added to United’s advantage when he drove forwards and sent a fearsome 20-yard shot rising over the Albion bar, before van Nistelrooy did, indeed, add a third. Park played a pass wide to substitute Alan Smith who, with his first touch of the ball, swung over a cross which the Dutch striker headed in, clinically, from eight yards.
Kuszczak saved his team from further embarrassment when he saved van Nistelrooy’s 70th minute shot low at the foot of his post but a miserable Albion afternoon was summed up when former Red Wallwork bore down on goal but struck his shot directly at van der Sar from six yards.
MAN UTD: Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Brown (Richardson 45), O’Shea, Park, Fletcher, Scholes (Smith 61), Giggs, Rooney, van Nistelrooy (Saha 66).
WEST BROM: Kuszczak, Albrechtsen, Curtis Davies, Gaardsoe (Gera 67), Robinson (Kamara 32), Watson, Chaplow, Wallwork, Carter, Greening, Ellington (Campbell 61).
Ref: M Clattenburg (Co Durham).