A season that appeared to be concluding in such optimistic fashion for Louis van Gaal and Manchester United brought a third consecutive league defeat thanks to Jonas Olsson’s deflected from a free-kick. It is a losing streak not endured by the club in nearly 14 years.
Just as alarming, following losses against Chelsea and Everton, United have now failed to score in three straight league matches for the first time since 2007, statistics which suggest that their veteran Dutch manager has much work to do this summer.
Robin van Persie ensured that goalless sequence continued as his 73rd-minute penalty, harshly awarded for handball against Saido Berahino on the edge of the area, was well saved by Boaz Myhill diving to his left.
By that stage, United were already trailing to Chris Brunt’s free-kick 10 minutes earlier which took a wicked, and unwitting deflection, off team-mate Olsson to wrong-foot David de Gea.
The players wore black arm bands as a mark of respect for the death hours before kick-off of Rebecca Ellison, the wife of former United favourite Rio Ferdinand, who lost a battle with cancer, with both sets of supporters also paying respects to her passing with applause soon after the start.
Perhaps the low-key opening to the game might have been expected. Early signs were promising for the visitors, former United man Darren Fletcher volleying over from the edge of the area and Joleon Lescott planting a set-piece header into the arms of David de Gea.
But Ashley Young began to assert increasing influence down the left, as early as the 14th minute when he cut in from his wing and saw a shot deflect behind via Van Persie.
Soon Van Persie was presented with a more orthodox attempt on goal, from a short Ander Herrera pass, which he met on the swivel with a shot that was parried by Boaz Myhill for Young to shoot behind from the ricochet.
Van Persie shot into the side-netting, but United were being forced to display necessary patience by the visitors’ well-organised defensive shape. Young and Juan Mata, assisted by Wayne Rooney, launched the next meaningful United attack only for it to peter out when the ball became caught in Van Persie’s feet on the edge of the area.
In time added on, Antonio Valencia tried to rectify matters with a strong run and drilled shot which struck Myhill in the chest and rebounded to the edge of the area from where Herrera fired high and wide.
Soon after the restart, Rooney, back in a deeper central midfield role, chanced his arm with a 20-yard effort that was far too close to Albion’s keeper.
When Daley Blind, playing as left-back, found himself in an advanced position soon after, a bit of urgency and a shot on goal was just what United needed but his effort struck team-mate Marouane Fellaini who was promptly flagged offside.
The visitors were creating little with Craig Gardner being handed a rare glimpse of goal early in the second half only to send an 18-yard attempt flying off target.