Young guns reap rewards for David Moyes' facelift plans
United manager's debut campaign improves after Smalling and Jones shine on the pitch, signalling that life beyond veterans is possible
The introduction of a youthful centre-back pair in Manchester United's 3-0 win at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was an indication of David Moyes' plans beyond a disappointing first season in charge.
Moyes has continually reiterated his intention to reshape United after inheriting an ageing squad from Alex Ferguson during a beleaguered debut campaign with the Premier League champions.
His inclusion of Chris Smalling, 24, and Phil Jones, 22, at The Hawthorns was an indication that the former Everton manager is ready to give United a facelift, and plan for life beyond some of their decorated veterans.
"I thought Smalling and Jones played really well," Moyes said after watching his side claim their first back-to-back league victories since December.
"Smalling was excellent by all accounts for England, too [against Denmark on Wednesday], while Jones is a very good player.
"He's been out for a month and we needed to try to get him some minutes, as we've got some big games coming up. We needed to make sure he's ready to play and they both did a great job."
The centre-back pairing replaced Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who both started in United's last match, a dismal 2-0 loss away to Olympiakos Piraeus in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Captain Vidic announced last month he would be leaving United at the end of his contract in the summer, with Inter Milan confirming they had secured his signature last Wednesday.
If United fans had been dreading the departure of the Serbian, Jones' performance will have gone some way to proving he could be a worthy deputy, opening the scoring in the first half with a thumping header.
"[For the first goal], it was a really good header by Phil after Rafael did good work down the right and got the free kick," Moyes said.
"Robin's [van Persie] delivery was excellent and, thankfully, Phil got across his defender and scored."
Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck added to Jones' strike as United made light work of an abject West Brom, who have won just one of their last 19 games in all competitions.
The win lifted Moyes' men to sixth in the league with 48 points, nine off fourth place and a Champions League qualification spot.
United host Liverpool next Sunday and Moyes will be hoping the injection of youth can continue to lift his side in a vital match against their second-placed rivals.
In a week in which Moyes has been forced to field questions over whether van Persie is happy at Old Trafford, the Dutch international stirred the debate when he gave a shake of the head after being substituted.
Having been cautioned for an ugly tackle from behind on Morgan Amalfitano five minutes into in the second half, van Persie risked a second yellow card minutes later for a lunge, which grounded Steven Reid.
The former Arsenal star cut a frustrated figure when he was replaced by Welbeck, trudging off the field before returning his manager's offer of his hand with a limp shake.
"Robin knew exactly what was happening," Moyes said. "I walked over earlier and told him that I was going to have to take him off, but it was the right decision.
"He played 90 minutes for Holland in midweek and I was never going to play him for another 90 minutes."