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MINDLESS OVER MATA; Juan's three minutes of madness stunned LVG and put United in trouble.

Byline: DAVE KIDD Chief Sports Writer

WELL we can safely assume there was nothing on Louis van Gaal's famous clipboard to cope with three minutes of madness like that.

Nothing among the Manchester United manager's copious notes to predict Juan Mata, the cuddliest man in football, might suffer the mother of all brainstorms and earn two bookings for a 26th-minute red card.

Mata is known as a thoroughly good bloke and a sumptuous footballer, with former Chelsea team-mates having often commented on his resemblance to Nookie Bear.

But here Mata was more like the literal translation of his name from Spanish to English - Johnny Kills.

The Spaniard killed the momentum created by United's mini-revival of four straight wins before Salomon Rondon's h dl winner sent them to a defeat which leaves them three points behind Manchester City in the final Champions League slot.

First Mata blocked Darren Fletcher's attempt at taking a free-kick, always an automatic yellow card.

Manche Champ First Fletche a free automa Th retst Then a man never renowned for his tackling took a wild swing in an attempt to dispossess Fletcher, missed and sent the Albion captain sprawling.

Ref Mike Dean seemed to pause, imagining his eyes had deceived him, before performing the obvious twocard trick.

It was the first red card of Mata's career and the first of United's season.

Van Gaal tried to claim Dean should have taken into account the player's general loveliness before issuing the second yellow, yet personality tests have never been a part of football's decisionmaking process.

Perhaps they will be incorporated once wider video technology is introduced and every decision takes an age to make?

Mata went and watched the second half from the window of the press room and will have wished he hadn't bothered.

The pasties had all gone and United were uninspired.

On a day when a 10-man Liverpool had come from behind to win away, United rarely looked like doing the same. They managed just one shot on goal, a weak early effort, and so they head into a mighty Europa League doubleheader against their bitter Scouse rivals on a seriously low note.

Albion are not an easy side to break down with a full complement of players; with 10 it's a hellish task. Tony Pulis' side have taken 10 points out of 12 now, three wins and a draw at leaders Leicester.

In Venezuelan ace Rondon, they have the sort of muscular, mobile frontman capable of unsettling any defence.

There had been little goalmouth action before Mata went berserk.

And after the dismissal, Albion actually flatlined for the rest of the half. Marcus Rashford went close with a deflected shot and Jesse Lingard cut inside to bend a shot just over.

And Albion did not threaten greatly until the goal arrived on 66 minutes.

Referee Dean ignored one foul by Daley Blind and played advantage when Michael Carrick offended.

There had not appeared to be much of an advantage but Dean was more far-sighted than the rest of us because the ball was played out to sub Sebastien Pocognoli, who centred low from the left for Rondon to turn and lash home with power and precision.

Van Gaal, while in denial about the red card, admitted their topfour hopes had taken a major dent.

A Europa League double-header against Liverpool, either side of an FA Cup quarter-final with in-form West Ham, followed by a Premier League trip to Manchester City now follow.

Four games which are likely to decide whether Van Gaal remains in charge at Old Trafford next season.

david.kidd@trinitymirror.com

mirror.co.uk/sport/football

WEST BROM

Foster 6

Barely bothered by short-handed United side

Dawson 7

Enterprising on his 100th appearance, surprise when subbed.

Olsson Booked 6

Good in the air, occasionally shaky on the deck.

McAuley 7

Commanding in air and very polished with the ball

Chester 6

Started at left-back, ended at right-back, and solid enough

Yacob 7

Very tidy in the holding role; wins it, gives it. Impressive

Fletcher 7

Showed his experience against former club, drew foul for Mata red

Sessegnon 5

Disappointing on the right, lost possession too often

Berahino 6

Occasional darting runs, but largely a bit quiet

Gardner 7

Certainly lively on the left, good set-piece delivery

Rondon MOTM 8

Muscular and menacing, took goal brilliantly

SUBS: Pocognoli (Dawson 55, 7), McClean (Sessegnon 69, 5), Sandro (Berahino 88)

MAN UTD

De Gea 6

Not at his most assured, though no blame for goal

Darmian 6

Experienced Italian was quietly effective at right-back

Smalling 6

Relished a proper physical battle with Rondon

Blind 6

A mixed bag, cute passing and occasional blips

Rojo 6

Solid at the back, rarely able to get forward with side a man down

Carrick 6

Some decent tick-tock passing but doesn't boss games any more.

Herrera 6

Decent passing, both short and long for the visitors

Lingard 7

A few impressive attacking moments, which gave team hope

Mata Sent off 3

Mr Nice Guy played as if possessed by Joey Barton

Martial 7

Moved to centreforward after red card. Lively, direct running

Rashford 5

Shunted out wide early on and struggled to make an impact 5

SUBS: Schneiderlin (Herrera 62, 6), Memphis (Rashford 75, 3), Fosu-Mensah (Darmian 83)

THINGS WE LEARNT

Juan Mata stll cannot tackle

Chelsea sold the Spaniard to United for PS37m because Jose Mourinho rued his lack of tracking back and tackling - Mata rashly clattered Darren Fletcher to see red here

Rondon much better with a partner

Salomon Rondon now has four goals in six Prem games since Tony Pulis opted to play two upfront and recalled Saido Berahino

Pulis savoured a rare win over United

The ex-Stoke and Palace boss (above) had lost 11 of his previous 13 Premier League games against United, winning only one. He ended a happy man

LVG cautious about playing kids

United's starting line-up against Watford in midweek averaged under 24-years-old - but at "physical" Albion he turned to older performers

United's superb Hawthorns run is over

United were unbeaten in their previous 11 league games at The Hawthorns - winning nine. But that proud run was finally ended

CAPTION(S):

Rondon fires in the winner - much to the delight of Foster (right) 1-0

FEEL HARD JUAN BY Mata cannot believe he is off and has to watch from a box as Rondon celebrates the winner
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 7, 2016
Words:1065
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