It may have stopped the rot, at least for the time being, but while Anthony Martial’s late equaliser handed Manchester United a bit alive in the FA Cup, Louis van Gaal’s boys showed very little evidence to prove they may actually have a chance to overturn West Ham in an Upton Park re-play to qualify for the semi-finals.
Another 90 minutes of play and yet another afternoon with frustration for those people inside Old Trafford who have now grown sick to see the same lack of ambition and quality displayed by this United squad.
Rather it was West Ham with their flair and cutting edge thanks to Dimitri Payet controlled this quarter-final clash and although Payet shouldn’t have been on the pitch to strike his stunning 67th-minute free-kick opener, nobody of a red persuasion actually could begrudge the fighting visitors their goal.
Manchester United all day long huffed and puffed, but Martial, at least, gave them an opportunity for a second bite in the replay as he volleyed in Ander Herrera’s perfect cross from close range on the 83rd minute.
Maybe Van Gaal’s men will find their much-needed confidence and form when the step into the replay, but while this draw made sure that the Red Devil’s season can’t be crashed down on three fronts this week, the late escape perhaps just suggest to be a case of delaying the inevitable truth.
Quarter-final results ahead of this match, with both Chelsea and Arsenal, ousted from FA Cup, should have given LVG even further encouragement to grab the chance that opened up before them.
West Ham would definitely throw a strong challenge – truly speaking, Slaven Bilic’s boys were unfortunate to leave Old Trafford with no more than a point in the Premier League last December – but with a great chance to qualify for the semi-final, and with none of the top four rivals left to obstruct United’s way, this was obviously the moment for a low-in-confidence United team to seize the chance.
But it was surprisingly a tentative Manchester United squad which began the fight against a confident West Ham.
Last Thursday’s daunting Europa League defeat at Anfield, on the back of another shameful 1-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion last Sunday, had may be plunged United’s morale way back to the depths of December, when they failed to win a single match in any competition.
West Ham looked brighter, more energetic and clearly ready to go for the throat slashing to capitalise on the home team’s recent anxiety. But despite the injury setbacks which have hit hard van Gaal’s team in recent weeks, United boss started the game with four of his summer signings on the bench; that means injuries could not be utilized as a mitigating factor as his team struggled to control the game in the first-half. Van Gaal had all the experience in his squad, but he surprisingly opted not to use much of it, going for instead the likes of Guillermo Varela, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford to start.
West Ham, on the other hand, were bolstered with so much experience and authority and they were quickly able to impose themselves into the match, showing the self-belief that comes on the back of a four-game winning streak, having netted ten goals in the run-in.
Andy Carroll was close to take the lead, and then creating, the opener two times inside the first six minutes, with his physical strength tormented the make-shift United defence.
The former Liverpool forward then fired a diving header from Aaron Cresswell’s fine cross over from 12 yards as West Ham continued their hold on the tie.
Manchester United, meanwhile, lacked class in attacking positions, were instead restricted to mere half-chances – Lingard took a shot wide from distance while Rashford fired an ambitious scissor-kick high over the bar from Varela’s cross.
West Ham were able to contain United with ease along with creating the clearest scoring chances, with David de Gea forced into a reflex save to deny Emmanuel Emenike’s header from another Cresswell cross.
There was also an alarming lack of cutting edge in the Red Devil’s play and even when they managed to increase the tempo in the second-half, they looked like a middleweight trying to land blows on a heavyweight.
However, there is no doubt that United displayed some entertaining attacks with Lingard and Varela linking well enough down the right – Payet was booked in the 54th minute for a trip on Lingard ending one such break – but it was nothing solid to give West Ham a real cause for concern.
Stats say West Ham goalkeeper Darren Randolph didn’t have a shot to save until Herrera’s 57th-minute free-kick curled into his grasp, but it was merely a challenge for the Irish goalkeeper.
Then Herrera’s shot ultimately hit Winston Reid’s arm after the ball had bounced off his knee, but it was seemingly a weak and dramatic penalty appeal by Manchester United.
Then came the key moment of the match. With Payet and Rojo chasing a 50-50 ball in the penalty area, Old Trafford was actually holding its breath, particularly because of Rojo’s large reputation as something of a rash tackler.
Rojo slid in and Payet fell to the ground, but referee Martin Atkinson dismissed West Ham’s penalty appeals, the official also didn’t book Payet for diving.
Everybody thought a yellow card was coming followed by a red, due to the Frenchman’s earlier booking, but Payet somehow escaped and he rubbed it in just three minutes later by beating De Gea from 25 yards after being fouled by Daley Blind.
United’s luck looked to be all but out, with Payet scoring with his spectacular free-kick, but Martial from nowhere gave them a lifeline with his late rescue strike at the end of a move started by himself 30 yards out.
With only seven minutes left to play, Manchester United had the time to snatch the second one and turn the game on its head, but their best chance came to Michael Carrick, who shot inches wide from 20 yards.
West Ham then tried to kill the tie without the need for Upton Park’s cup replay. But De Gea saved again by tipping Michail Antonio’s shot wide of the far post, and West Ham kept the Spanish goalkeeper really busy with four corners in stoppage time.
But van Gaal’s boys managed to hold on. They are really clinging onto their season with their fingertips, but it is becoming a weak grip day by day.