By Greg Robertson
Join the team at 3news.co.nz/sport for video live updates of the opening round of the English Premier League 2011/12 season as West Bromwich-Albion plays host to last year’s Premier League Champions Manchester United at the Hawthorns.
Refresh your browser occasionally and keep an eye out for added video as we go. We’ll warn you with a VIDEO UP sign every time we update with fizzing football highlights.
LIVE VIDEO and COMMENTARY…
FINAL SCORE West Bromwich-Albion 1 Vs Manchester United 2
That's fulltime. Manchester United hang on.
88 mins: two minutes left plus stoppage time - can WBA make a late charge? Manchester United has pulled everyone behind the ball to protect the lead.
81 mins: Ashley Young scores! Great goal! Video up. It may be awarded as an own goal though as it looked to take two deflections.
78 mins: Brunt played it in and De Gea has his legs taken out from underneath him. No freekick - oh my, give the young Spanish goalkeeper SOME protection ref. Welcome to English football as he picks himself up, dusts himself off and gets on with it.
73 mins: Ferdinand is looking at the bench and clutching his right hamstring. Yep - that's his day. Albion attacking while United are a man light. Ferdinand can't move. Nani handles and it's a free kick for West Brom but at least it means United can get a man on. Rio is relieved - he was struggling - as they try and get Phil Jones on. Ferdinand meanwhile isn't hanging around to get treated, he's off and hobbling. Vidic... gone. Ferdinand... gone. Concern, rising. Understudies - fresh and class and given the chance.
69 mins: Shane Long leans in as he's chasing a ball and is done for shouldering off the ball. What? Ridiculous! Let them flay football ref.
67 mins: Remember New Year's day? De ja vu? No Hernandez here to score the winner this time.
64 mins: Here comes some United pressure and they are all involved, first Nani dancing on the edge and them Young on the left edge of the box shimmies, dodges and gets chopped half a yard outside the box. Free kick - dangerous. Nani has it... will he drill it low and hard? No, he flicks in in and it misses everyone. A touch and it would have been interesting. Berbatov on for Welbeck in a United shirt. Video up.
58 mins: Morrison hacks down Cleverley - not very smart at all. Fergie is irate about it. Nani's delivery is dangerous but WBA get it away.
55 mins: Mike Jones pulls out his notebook and Young goes into for sticking out a foot and bringing down Long. Long's involvement has been of high content and quality so far.
50 mins: Long looks dangerous but Vidic slides across to handle the situation. It;s his last act of the match and Evans comes on to replace Vidic.
46 mins: We've kicked off for the second spell. Early corner to man U but the ref has seen a push and is having none of it.
That's HALFTIME 1-1. See you after the break.
44 mins: OH... so close as West Brom look like they would take the lead. De Gea parries away cross straight to Brunt who looks up and shoots but it slides agonisingly by the post. Video up.
40 mins: West Brom fans are now in absolute full voice. The Hawthorns is alive and well and living off the long goal.
37 mins: Shane Long scores for West Brom on debut! It slips under De Gea - of dear, De Gea. Video up.
35 mins: Paul Scharner forces a great save from De Gea in the United goal. Video up.
34 mins: Young whips one at goal on the way that is blocked. It's like this just outside the West Brom penalty area... United's last 30 seconds: pass, beat one, pass, lay off, movement off the ball, pass, one two, pass, turn... and that's just Rooney.
30 mins: Nani playing well despite the miss. They dealt well with a couple of Brunt corners so far and when they break it's fluid and a bit like watching poetry in motion (wipes a tear away). So much room to move though definitely helps the United cause. Rooney is dropping back into the hole in typical fashion and while West Brom keeps one eye on him De Gea; Smalling, Rio, Vidic, Fabio; Nani, Anderson, Cleverley, Young; and Welbeck are making moves.
24 mins: United not having it all their own way though as a couple of corners come West Brom's way. No real panic at the back for the Red devils - yet.
22 mins: A beautiful move from Manchester United as Welbeck, Rooney and Nani combine and Nani should have done oh so much better as he blasts it over the top with only the keeper to beat. Video up.
18 mins: Well Rooney has his goal scoring underway. He turned on that one and hit the corner through legs with ease.
13 mins: Rooney scores! Video up.
7 mins: Scharner cracks one for West Brom from an absolute mile away. Close-ish. Video up.
6 mins: Tchoyi pushes around Anderson and wins a free kick on the edge of the box. It's headed clear and United break away again. West Brom players calling for tissues to fix nose bleeds from being at the dizzying heights -n upfield. We'll get some video action up as soon as it happens.
3 mins: It's all Manchester United and it's corner after corner. West Brow scrambling and scrambling hard as Manchester United camps out in West Brom territory... they've pitched a tent.
1 min: We've rolled off and Manchester United have the early ball. Foster tries to clear a back pass for West Brom and it's gone straight to Rooney. All in all, falls to Young who tries to bend one from 33 yards. It gets a deflection and Man U get the first corner. That drops and is hacked away from the six yard box.
The title defence starts right here, right now... and with some other high-profile clubs only managing draws for their first up games of the season it bodes well for Manchester United to get a jump on the rest as they search for number 20!
Kick off is not too far away but in the meantime check out yesterday’s ‘welterweight’ fight between Newcastle’s Barton and Arsenal’s Gervinho.
Starting line ups:
West Brom (4-4-1-1): Foster; Reid, Ollson, Tamas, Shorey; Morrison, Scharner, Mulumbu, Brunt; Tchoyi; Long. Subs: Fulop, Cox, Jara Reyes, Fortune, Dawson, Dorrans, Thorne.
Manchester United (4-4-2): De Gea; Smalling, Rio, Vidic, Fabio; Nani, Anderson, Cleverley, Young; Welbeck, Rooney. Subs: Lindegaard, Jones, Evans, Berbatov, Giggs, Park, Carrick.
West Bromwich Albion boss Roy Hodgson has warned that his team faces its 'most dangerous year' in their bid to stay in the top flight.
Hodgson, who took over at the club in February, lost just two of 12 games in charge to lead West Brom to 11th last campaign.
But he said that the biggest challenge was to remain in the English Premier League for a third-straight season.
"I can't stop preaching that it's now our second year in the Premier League and it is notoriously difficult and most dangerous year after being promoted," Hodgson said.
"Staying up (in) the first year and then going down the second - we have to be careful of that."
"We will work hard to stay in this league and we will continue to become a solid, reliable team and club and then we can hope to build on a platform of success."
"I don't really mind where we finish at this moment in time, as high as possible of course, but if it's in the Premier League, I will be happy."
On a personal level, Hodgson said he has not seriously considered taking over as England boss.
"No, I'm not keeping my options open for any job. When it comes to England my name's been mentioned on many occasions," Hodgson said.
"I'm happy it's been mentioned, but I haven't given it more thought than that."
"If the day ever came and it was mentioned seriously then I'll confront that situation when that day comes, but I don't have any agendas and I'm not keeping an option open to England or for anything else."
West Brom meet Manchester United at The Hawthorns in their Premier League opener on Sunday.
The world’s wealthiest football league returns with promise that it will have its most open race in recent history. Manchester United’s Premier League title defense will be put to the test by Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur
The 20th season of the Premier League starts with a bid to steal the show back from La Liga. The world’s wealthiest football league suffered two seasons of choke and saw its domination slip away from its hands. The superstar signings of Spanish clubs along with the shiny and fiery competition between Barcelona and Real Madrid took La Liga to the top. However, Premier League wants to rise to the top again, an a possible six-strong competition for the title will help the cause over the bipartisan La Liga.
Manchester United will face stiff challenge from local rivals Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and rejuvenated Liverpool as it will be trying to defend its title.
No club has more reason to celebrate the Premier League’s 20th anniversary season than Manchester United.
The latest title in May took United to the top of the English champions’ leaderboard - surpassing Liverpool’s tally of 18.
“Looking back on our big breakthrough in 1993 when we won the inaugural Premier League, I never envisaged that we would then storm away to overhaul Liverpool,” Ferguson wrote in a Premier League book looking ahead to the new season.
Liverpool is still United’s greatest rival but it’s not alone. Chelsea has captured the championship crown three times since 2005 and Manchester City has been awoken from a decades-long slumber by Abu Dhabi wealth.
“We will be trying our hardest to make it 20 league titles in the Premier League’s 20th season,” Ferguson said. “But not in any sense of boastfulness.” The comprehensive loss to Barcelona in May’s Champions League final prevents such bragging.
While there is a war for the top, there will be another one down below. Just staying in the top flight will be the priority for the three promoted teams.
While south Wales club Swansea returns to the top tier after 30 years, two founding members of the Premier League are back. Queens Park Rangers, which is part owned by Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, ends a 15-year exile after being promoted as champions.
Norwich returns after six years, with the only current topflight manager to have won the Champions League as a player: Paul Lambert with Borussia Dortmund in 1997.
It shows have far football has changed in England that the 1992-3 season ended with Norwich third and QPR fifth. Some things, though, never change, with United favorite to top the standings again 20 years on.
“We would remain popular I think if Manchester United won it for the next X numbers of years,” league chief executive Richard Scudamore responded to a question about such predictability. “Because A there is a huge Manchester United following and B everyone we would be out watching to see if someone can beat them next time out. I don’t think this idea of somebody having to rotate through the trophy all the time is necessarily the thing that drives or doesn’t drive interest.”
Even a record-breaking 19th English title failed to silence the critics from claiming the Manchester United players could not hold a torch to previous trophy-winning sides.
An overwhelming loss to Barcelona in the Champions League final only seemed to strengthen their case.
But as befits a manager with 25 years experience at United, Alex Ferguson has shut out such detractors, avoiding wholesale offseason changes to the playing staff and quietly plotting a 20th title during the tour of the United States.
"Our present squad is as good as any we have had and I say that despite a certain amount of sniping that our latest champions lack the flair and excitement of old," Ferguson said. "You play as well as the opposition allow you and, in my book, there is a strength in depth in the Premier League that limits the number of occasions when you can cut loose, and if you like, put on the style.
"It's a very tough and unrelenting league, but we must have been doing something right because we dropped only two points on our own ground."
There is no complacency after overhauling Liverpool's title record by delivering United a 12th championship crown in 19 years, but success has bred confidence at Old Trafford.
"The pressure is not overwhelming," defender Rio Ferdinand said. "It is part of being a Manchester United player. You have to deal with all that stuff.
"It represents the difference between adapting to life at United and not because it is never going to change."
The main offseason signings were forced on Ferguson by veterans retiring. Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, defender Gary Neville and midfielder Paul Scholes have all gone, with goalkeeper David De Gea, defender Phil Jones and winger Ashley Young the new arrivals.
"A new team is emerging but I view it as an evolution," Ferguson said.
"For the last three years we were well aware of the need to replace Ryan Giggs. Fortunately, he is carrying on but Gary Neville left, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar retired.
"The work over the last two or three years has been about replacing them and trying to make sure there is enough quality in the squad to carry on our success."
Replacing Scholes, though is proving tougher, with a deal for Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder long-discussed but yet to be clinched.
"Scholes was something else. Scoring goals, creating them, retaining possession, launching long passes like a quarterback," Ferdinand said. "You can't replace players like that."
While the owning Glazer family insist the cash would be made available to sign such players, even they do not have the spending power enjoyed across Manchester.
Ferguson's big challenge now is seeing off the threat posed by Manchester City, the long-dormant neighbour emboldened with Gulf wealth and a first trophy in 35 years after winning the FA Cup in May.
"There was a period not so long ago when they were actually in the second division - they were never a thorn in our flesh," Ferguson said ahead of the new season. "(Success) takes the pressure off the manager and gives confidence to the players.
"We have experienced that ourselves and we expect them (City) to be challengers next year. Winning a trophy does a power of good."
One trophy Ferguson believes United should have won more often is the European Cup.
Even in an official Premier League book ahead of the new season, Ferguson states categorically: "The UEFA Champions League Final is the pinnacle of the game."
But Ferguson will have to ensure he is not distracted by the quest to avenge last season's 3-1 Champions League final loss to Barcelona and deliver the club's fourth European title.
Barcelona, he accepts, "are the team of the moment."
"They can dominate any game," he added. "Everyone says what a great final it was, that Barcelona were fantastic and we were disappointing.
"It is not the kind of thing that makes you think, 'Let's not bother with European football any more, we are never going to beat Barcelona.' Manchester
United are bigger than that. We have a better philosophy than that. The challenge will be 'Can we improve enough to get to the final next season and win?"'
One thing seems certain this season: Ferguson will not spend long dwelling on two personal milestones. November will be 25 years since United gambled by appointing the Scot; and in December he turns 70.
Meanwhile South Korea midfielder Park Ji-sung has signed a new contract with Manchester United.
The 30-year-old Park is now committed to the Premier League champions until the end of next season.
Park has scored 24 goals in 177 games since joining from PSV Eindhoven in 2005.
United manager Alex Ferguson says "he has great ability and energy and in recent seasons has added the knack of scoring important goals in big games."