x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Manchester United hold firm after slow start

Move into top six with hard-won three points

Manchester United's Danny Welbeck scores past Norwich City goalkeeper John Ruddy on Saturday. Ben Stansall / AFP
Manchester United's Danny Welbeck scores past Norwich City goalkeeper John Ruddy on Saturday. Ben Stansall / AFP

NORWICH // David de Gea was right to berate his teammates. Saturday’s match was only 16 minutes old, but the champions were on the back foot, a theme for much of the first half at Carrow Road.

De Gea, the only ever-present in United’s 19 league games, would rather he was not required to showcase his shot-stopping talents so frequently, but he was as Norwich enjoyed more play and chances. Chris Hughton’s side are criticised by their own fans for being cautious, but they were a continued threat down right through Russell Martin and Robert Snodgrass.

The balls came into United’s box, but the Spaniard stood firm, saving from Snodgrass and Norwich’s in-form top scorer Gary Hooper.

De Gea was not impressed by those in front of him at the start, but his efforts allowed his side to go in with the score goalless, when David Moyes made a key change to make up for the absence of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, the injured strike pair both missing from United’s match day squad for the first time this season. Moyes brought on Danny Welbeck for Ryan Giggs and the influence of the in-form striker was immediate.

Even without the ball, Welbeck closed the opposition down, allowing Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick to advance and take control. But it was his goal which changed the game, a well-taken 57th-minute effort after a defensive mistake.

Welbeck rounded goalkeeper John Ruddy and slid the ball home, earning United all three points. It was his fourth goal in two weeks; he managed two in the whole of last season.

An unconvincing United were more solid in the second half, their defence unbreached and De Gea unworried.

“When a goalkeeper does it right, nobody remembers. When they do it wrong, nobody forgets,” said Eric Steele, De Gea’s goalkeeping coach for his first two seasons in Manchester.

The Spaniard’s profile was higher two years ago during his first, error-strewn season at Old Trafford. There was a point when even the most optimistic United fans wondered if he was the right man to replace Edwin van der Sar.

The coaches who worked with him daily at Carrington never doubted it, and their faith and patience was vindicated. De Gea was excellent last season and his form has continued into this. He has grown both physically and in confidence. United have conceded costly late goals from free-kicks this season, but by the time Joshua Murphy swung an injury-time free kick into De Gea’s box, his defence were more comfortable and United made it six wins from six in all competitions, with a De Gea clean sheet in four.

“Danny Welbeck’s performance changed the game.” Moyes said.

“A massive disappointment,” Hughton said. “On the balance of play, we didn’t deserve to lose. We didn’t capitalise on our chances.”

De Gea did not allow them to.

sports@thenational.ae