The good news for Manchester United is that not every game has to be an occasion for soul-searching, recrimination and open letters of apology from manager to shareholders. The only bad news is that not every game can be against West Bromwich Albion either.
The Baggies have yet to record a win under Pepe Mel's management and on this evidence it is not hard to see why. They are utterly short of confidence, lightweight in most areas of the pitch and toothless in front of goal. Whether they can avoid relegation playing like this must be a concern to the Albion board, not to mention the supporters who have forked out £25 a head (curry and a pint included) for an evening with Mel as far into the future as 26 March, but United hardly needed to be at their best to take all three points.
Which is just as well, because they were not to begin with, even if by the end there were encouraging signs that Juan Mata is beginning to bed in with his new teammates and that Danny Welbeck has not lost any of his sharpness by being kept on the bench. "I felt we had goals in us today," David Moyes said. "I was pleased with the attack and I could see in the players' attitude that they were keen to make up for the last performance."
Robin van Persie's free-kick set up the first goal, allowing Phil Jones to exploit some casual Albion marking to use the pace on the ball in guiding it past Ben Foster with his head. That was after 34 minutes, and the goal seemed such a straightforward one it was hard to work out why United had not managed more. Rafael da Silva had seen Foster push a header against the bar a few minutes earlier, and the home goalkeeper was distinctly lucky to get away with the misjudgment of a high ball from Mata that involved him handling when he might have been fractionally outside his area, but Albion in the first half had just as much reason to rue missed chances.
Claudio Yakob could have equalised but headed over from close range, Victor Anichebe shot narrowly wide, then Zoltan Gera made a complete hash of connecting with a Morgan Amalfitano free-kick that picked him out in front of goal. The pattern continued in the second half with Gera wasting a good opportunity with a tame shot straight at David de Gea and Mata, of all people, turning up on his own line to block from Chris Brunt, before United wrapped up the points with another cheaply conceded goal. Wayne Rooney and Mata were both involved in the buildup before Rafael swung over a cross from the right to find Rooney unmarked at the far post and able to score with a simple header.
Welbeck was playing up front for United by that stage, Van Persie having been withdrawn for his own good after somehow managing to avoid a second yellow card for a foul on Steven Reid. Already in the book for a clumsy challenge on Amalfitano, his lunge at Reid's ankles looked even uglier, yet Jonathan Moss let it go with just the award of a free-kick. Van Persie did not look best pleased to see his number go up, but left the field without any outward display of dissent.
Mel thought the United player should have been dismissed. "The referee should have given a second yellow because my player was injured," the Albion manager said, reasonably enough since Reid could not continue.
Unsurprisingly, Moyes saw it differently. "It was a foul, but he got the ball first and not every foul has to be a booking," the United manager argued. "I was always going to bring him off before the end because he played 90 minutes in midweek. The crowd was up against him and it would only have taken one more slip."
United arguably played better without Van Persie anyway, scoring almost immediately and adding the best of the lot eight minutes from time when Rooney rounded off an extended passing move by sliding a precise ball forward for Welbeck to reach ahead of Jonas Olsson and supply a neat finish to beat Foster. When Nemanja Vidic came on for the closing minutes it was almost a surprise to realise that United had not missed him. That is not to say the hard-working Anichebe did not let Jones and Chris Smalling know he was around, just that West Brom are not the sort of side to monster opposing defences. How they managed to win at Old Trafford earlier in the season must be a mystery to anyone who has seen them only since Christmas.
Someone such as Mel, in fact. The next four games, beginning with Swansea away, are going to be crucial for Albion and a manager who is not fluent in English yet but understands the question about his future at the club perfectly. "My job is to work hard with the players and concentrate on doing well in the next game," he said. "The rest does not depend on me."