If there was any lingering hope that Manchester United might provide a Premier League title challenge for what is turning into a procession for Manchester City then it surely ended here.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had written off their hopes and they were fortunate, in fact, to escape with a draw against the apparent relegation certainties, West Brom.
Sam Allardyce’s side had the best chances, through goal-scorer Mbaye Diagne, and will rue a missed opportunity to claim a rare win that may have fuelled their slim hopes of staying up.
With Liverpool again faltering this was an opportunity for United, along with Leicester City, to stake their claim but they were nowhere near good enough against the team with the worst defensive record in the Premier League.
The first-half was book-ended by the goals. In between United were bordering on abject with Solskjaer at one point moved to come to the touchline and angrily shout at his players – telling Scott McTominay and Fred to “sort it out” and demanding more from Bruno Fernandes.
He eventually got it from Fernandes with a superbly taken equalising goal as he met Luke Shaw’s cross, ahead of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, to hook his volley high into the net. Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone had no chance but before that United were lethargic, leaden and had even been bullied at times.
None more so than with West Brom’s goal after just 83 seconds with the focus again on goalkeeper David De Gea and, also, Victor Lindelof. Conor Gallagher hoisted in a cross, De Gea stepped forward but then hesitated, Lindelof was distracted and Diagne was too strong and too determined for the defender as he headed home from the edge of the six-yard box.
It was the first goal for the Senegalese striker since his loan move from Galatasaray and while Lindelof may claim he was fouled it looked like one player trying to win the ball and another not reacting. De Gea, again, showed his tendency to remain on his line.
Diagne certainly relished the challenge and clearly Allardyce had targeted getting in as many crosses as possible. The forward won and then met a free-kick, again beating Lindelof to the ball, only for his header to drift across goal before a cross by Conor Townsend reached Robert Snodgrass, outjumping Shaw, with De Gea tipping it over the cross-bar.
United were awarded a penalty, for an apparent push on Harry Maguire by Semi Ajayi, but the decision was over-turned by referee Craig Pawson when he consulted the pitch-side monitor after being told to do so by the VAR with, soon after, substitute Darnell Furlong clearing McTominay’s low shot off the goal-line.
As the rain swept across the Hawthorns, Solskjaer withdrew the ineffective Anthony Martial, bringing on Greenwood, with United desperately pushing for the winning goal. It also left the vulnerable to the counter-attack and after Maguire slipped it left Diagne one-on-one with De Gea who saved his low shot and then recovered brilliantly to claw away the rebound before it could be headed home. What a chance for West Brom.
Before that Maitland-Niles had also been wasteful as he had time to pick out the unmarked Diagne only to get his cross all wrong with United fortunate to escape.
They were lucky again when Diagne met a cross from Furlong only to send the ball over the bar with the outside of his boot. In injury-time Maguire had the chance to win it but his header was wonderfully tipped onto the post by Johnstone at full-stretch to preserve the point that was the least West Brom deserved in what was their best performance so far under Allardyce. Not that it was enough.