LONDON – (AFP) – Manchester United started their defence of the Premier League title with a hard-fought 2-1 win over West Brom on Sunday, while new Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas was forced to settle for a 0-0 draw at Stoke in his first match.
Sir Alex Ferguson sent out a youthful United team including Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Fabio da Silva, as well as debutants David De Gea and Ashley Young, and they needed a late Steven Reid own goal to seal the points at the Hawthorns.
While there was a freshness about United’s line-up, it was Wayne Rooney, one of Ferguson’s more seasoned campaigners, who opened the scoring in the 13th minute when he finished a flowing move with a fine strike from just inside the penalty area.
United winger Nani squandered two chances to extend the lead before De Gea gifted Albion an equaliser in the 37th minute.
The Spanish goalkeeper, signed from Atletico Madrid to replace the retired Edwin van der Sar, had already been criticised for his role in two of Manchester City’s goals in last weekend’s Community Shield and this was an even worse mistake.
Shane Long cut into the penalty area from the left and hit a low shot that De Gea should have dealt with easily, but the 20-year-old made a complete hash of his attempted save and allowed the ball to squirm under his arms.
United lost central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to injuries in the second half, but they snatched the points in the 81st minute when Reid deflected Young’s cross into his own goal.
At the Britannia Stadium, Villas-Boas’s side failed to impress in the first half, but improved after the interval and the Portuguese coach would have been celebrating a winning start but for three fine saves from Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
The 33-year-old admitted a draw wasn’t the best start but he was infuriated by Stoke’s tactics at set-pieces.
“I can’t be pleased with a draw but it’s one of the most difficult grounds to play at,” he said.
“A point I want to make when you are playing difficult games like this is the amount of pushing and grabbing in the box, because it’s out of this world.
“We know the amount of goals they score with these set plays. But I think there’s a limit to the pushing and grabbing. It makes it impossible.”
Villas-Boas showed he won’t shy away from making big decisions as he selected Fernando Torres ahead of Dider Drogba and the £50 million Spaniard responded to the vote of confidence with one of his more energetic displays.
Torres felt he should have had a penalty at the start of the second half when Ryan Shawcross challenged the forward but referee Mark Halsey was unmoved and the official snubbed another spot-kick claim when Frank Lampard went down too easily under pressure from Marc Wilson.
Chelsea came closest to snatching a winner but Begovic denied John Obi Mikel, then tipped substitute Nicolas Anelka’s curling effort onto the crossbar and also saved from Salomon Kalou.
Arsenal and Liverpool also endured underwhelming starts to the season as both were held to draws on Saturday.
The Gunners had debutant striker Gervinho sent off for a slap on Joey Barton in the 0-0 draw at Newcastle, while Liverpool surrendered the lead in a 1-1 draw with Sunderland at Anfield.
Luis Suarez missed an early penalty for Kenny Dalglish’s side before making amends with a headed goal, but Sebastian Larrson’s superb second half volley rescued a draw for Steve Bruce’s side.
Newly-promoted QPR suffered the worst possible return to the top flight as Bolton cruised to a 4-0 victory at Loftus Road, while fellow new-boys Norwich fared better with a 1-1 draw at Wigan.
Elsewhere, Wolves won 2-1 at Blackburn and Fulham drew 0-0 with Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.
FA Cup winners Manchester City kick off against Swansea at Eastlands on Monday.
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