Sir Alex Ferguson was denied a winning send-off into retirement as West Brom roared back from three goals down to snatch a draw in a quite staggering ten-goal thriller at The Hawthorns.
Scorers: West Brom - Morrison (40), Lukaku (50, 81, 86), Mulumbu (81); Manchester United - Kagawa (6), Olsson (og 9), Buttner (30), Van Persie (53), Hernandez (63)
Referee: M Oliver
Only once in Premier League history has more goals been scored in a game. And never have both sides found the net five times.
Maybe it was destiny that after so many milestones, Ferguson’s career should end in a manner that is unlikely to be forgotten either.
Not that the Scot looked hugely impressed as he chomped on his chewing gum, knowing his side could easily have lost when Markus Rosenburg spurned a late chance.
In the end though, not even four minutes of “Fergie Time” could yield a winner as referee Michael Oliver called time on the greatest career English football has ever known.
It was typical of Ferguson that his last team selection should be made with an eye on the future he will be watching unfold from the Old Trafford directors’ box.
Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra might have a combined total of 40 Premier League title medals and shared in some of Ferguson’s greatest days, but they were all named on the bench.
With them was 18-year-old Belgian Adnan Junzaj, the latest promising youngster to roll off the Red Devils production line.
For a short while, after the guard of honour and the jovial handshake with fourth official Chris Foy, it seemed Ferguson’s team might let him down as West Brom started with a clear sense of purpose.
It soon became apparent however, that this was to be a day that will live as long in the memory as Ferguson’s career.
With Wayne Rooney granted an absence due to the impending birth of his second child, the Scot had been saved a potentially tricky selection dilemma.
In Rooney’s place, the United boss chose Javier Hernandez, who chased a long ball down to the corner flag and quickly crossed to Shinji Kagawa, who had been left completely on his own on the edge of the six-yard box.
The Japan international has struggled for consistency during his debut campaign; he evidently has lots of talent, though. And he had no bother putting the visitors ahead. On their next attack, United struck again. This time Antonio Valencia found space out wide before drilling a low shot across the six-yard box which the hapless Jonas Olsson turned into his own net.
The start was in keeping with West Brom’s lamentable end of season form.
With just one victory from their final nine games, the Baggies have put themselves in a position where a poor start to next term will trigger a revision of history that will have Steve Clarke’s position as manager under scrutiny no matter what wonders he performed in the first half of the campaign.
When Alexander Buttner strode onto Tom Cleverley’s pass and drove his first goal since September into the bottom corner, plenty of home fans headed for the concourses even though there was less than a third of the contest completed. In addition to late goals, the other aspect of United’s DNA, Ferguson knows only too well is that they always seem to make life difficult for themselves.
It is what he meant in his on-pitch address last week when he declared he was looking forward to watching United play, rather than suffering with them.
And so, when James Morrison managed to pull one back just before the interval and substitute Romelu Lukaku struck immediately afterwards, it was as much in keeping with Ferguson’s reign as Ferdinand’s 87th winner seven days ago against Swansea.
Order was quickly restored though as Valencia crossed for Robin van Persie to set the seal on a second successive Golden Boot title, the difference being that this year, the Dutchman has a team prize to go alongside it.
By now the game had seen the introduction of Ryan Giggs, for his 941st appearance under Ferguson, and the veteran Welshman quickly crossed for Hernandez to touch home.
Amazingly though, West Brom refused to surrender.
First Lukaku, then Youssouf Mulumbu scored to give the scoreboard as surreal a look as any during Ferguson’s glittering career in football.
That old competitive instinct resurfaced as the Scot demanded to know how long was left.
In the end, not long enough was the answer as Lukaku’s third goal, four minutes from the end, proved enough to take some of the sheen off Ferguson’s day.