Juan Mata saw red after only a quarter of the game after two yellow cards that could easily have been avoided.
The Spaniard was booked for blocking an Albion free kick in the 23rd minute, then within three minutes, he took a swipe at Darren Fletcher. The referee Mike Dean made the right decision on both incidents and had no option but to send him off.
Not only did it hamper their chances in this game, but Mata will now miss the important FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham next Sunday.
Manager Louis van Gaal didn’t single out his player for criticism, but hinted that referee Dean could have been more lenient towards a player who isn’t known for many yellow or red cards.
“My opinion doesn’t count,” he said afterwards, “but you give, as a referee, was in five minutes two yellow cards at the same person? Have you seen the first three tackles of West Bromwich Albion to our players? No yellow cards.
“We have played 60 minutes with 10 against 11, and that’s always difficult, but we were not uncomfortable, also in the second half we didn’t give too many chances away. I think one chance and one goal, so we were well organised but it difficult to create chances also with 10 against 11. West Bromwich Albion scored from one out of three chances. For us that is a big disappointment.”
United, when they had a full compliment of players, started brightly and they continued to create a couple of half chances during the second half, but it was always going to be an uphill task when faced with a well-drilled West Bromwich Albion side and a passionate home support.
Albion defender Craig Dawson had the first chance to open the scoring after ghosting in at the back post to head Salomon Rondon’s cross towards goal — good covering from Anthony Martial prevented him from getting on target.
Within seconds of Mata’s sending off, Dawson again went close with a speculative looping volley that had United goalkeeper David de Gea scrambling, before the ball bounced just wide.
The 10-men of United started the second half the stronger with new sensation Marcus Rashford getting into a great position to latch onto a good run by Martial yet his goal-bound shot was deflected wide. Then Jesse Lingard flashed a vicious 25-yard shot goalwards but went inches over the crossbar.
But any clear cut chances were never going to materialise, with van Gaal changing the formation, moving Rashford to right midfield and leaving Martial as a lone striker and several times he was isolated with support not forthcoming when holding the ball.
He did manage to win a free kick just outside the box after clashing with Jonas Olsson however Ander Herrera wasted the opportunity.
The home side managed to weather that particular storm though and eventually made the extra man count with the only goal of the game in the 66th minute.
Substitute Sebastien Pocognoli drilled in a left foot cross that was controlled well by Rondon, before he turned and smashed the ball past de Gea from eight yards.
It was the Venezuelan’s seventh league goal this season, as Pulis’ side look to battle away from the relegation zone. Credit to the 10-men of United, they never gave up the fight for an equaliser but couldn’t fashion a decent effort.
Meanwhile as spaces opened up at the back, Rondon, Craig Gardner, and Saido Berahino all had chances to attack, but in truth they didn’t press too hard, preferring to protect what they had.
West Brom manager Tony Pulis was pleased with his teams efforts and thought they deserved the win. “First ten minutes of the second half they looked as though they stepped it up and could cause us some problems but thankfully we saw it out and i think we deserved it in the end.
Albion are now on 39 points, but Pulis still has that magical points target in mind.
“One more. Let’s get to 40 and take it from there, it’s very difficult managing teams in the lower half of the league, it can drive you insane at times, you never stop worrying but you have to keep driving on.”
Foster 6; Dawson 6 (Pogognoli 55, 6), McAuley 6, Olsson 6, Chester 5; Sessegnon 7 (McClean 68, 5), Yacob 5, Fletcher 6, Gardner 7; Rondon 8, Berahino 7 (Sandro 88, 5)
Anichebe, Myhill, Lambert, Pritchard.
De Gea 6; Darmian 6 (Fosu-Mensah 83, 5), Smalling 7, Blind 6, Rojo 5; Herrera 6 (Schneiderlin 61, 5), Carrick 6; Lingard 6, Mata 4, Martial 6; Rashford 5 (Memphis 74, 5)
Romero, Fellaini, Varela, Weir
Mike Dean (8/10)