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West Ham United 1-1 Manchester United | Premier League match report | Football | The Guardian
Manchester United earn point at West Ham with late Daley Blind volley
Sachin Nakrani at Upton Park
Published Sunday 8 February 2015 18.28 GMT
Late pressure and a result-changing goal in added time meant this match ultimately ended in a manner that was classic Manchester United, which for everyone associated with the club must come as a relief given that for most of the afternoon those wearing the Red Devil on their shirt performed in a manner unrecognisable from the greats that have gone before. To put it bluntly, United got away with a point here and, for all the progress that has taken place under Louis van Gaal, this remains a club struggling for an identity in the post-Ferguson era.
Not that the United manager saw it like that, afterwards praising his team’s “fantastic football and fantastic spirit” during a second half when they reacted to Cheikhou’s Kouyaté’s wonderfully imaginative goal four minutes after the interval by cranking up the pressure until they got one themselves through Daley Blind. The assessment was not wholly off the mark but it raised eyebrows among those in attendance and there was far more acceptance of the Dutchman’s view that United had “played badly” during the first period when West Ham could and should have built up an unassailable lead.
In those opening 45 minutes and, in truth, for the bulk of this fixture, the hosts were the better team in every area of the pitch. Their midfield quartet of Alex Song, Kevin Nolan, Mark Noble and Stewart Downing were more energetic and better in possession than their United counterparts, while up front Enner Valencia was a constant threat alongside the equally impressive Diafra Sakho, who was playing only because Andy Carroll was missing with an ankle injury.
In contrast United’s front pair of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao were largely toothless until those closing, frantic stages, taking little advantage of the fact that West Ham were missing their regular central defenders, James Collins and Winston Reid, who suffered hamstring strains in last week’s defeat at Liverpool. In their place came James Tomkins and Kouyaté, who worked tirelessly in marshalling West Ham’s defence, maintaining a high line when the hosts had the ball and clearing practically everything that came their way in the rare moments that United found the gusto and swagger to cause their opponents danger.
For Kouyaté, in particular, this was a day to remember. Playing his first match since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, the Senegalese scored his second goal for West Ham since arriving from Anderlecht for £7m last June. And some goal it was too. Receiving the ball with his back towards goal, and after United had made a mess of clearing Noble’s free-kick, he juggled the ball twice before swivelling and hitting a shot which sailed past David De Gea via a deflection off Blind.
The goal was West Ham’s 12th from a set piece this season — a Premier League high — and the least they deserved for their domination of proceedings to that point. Prior to the interval Enner Valencia had tested De Gea twice in a minute with drives and the Spanish goalkeeper also had to keep out Tomkins’ close-range stab with an outstretched boot after United’s defence had failed to clear Aaron Cresswell’s free-kick.
De Gea, as has often been the case this season, was United’s best player, making save after save, including a further two late in the second half from Noble and Nolan as West Ham looked to score a second, decisive goal. They proved to be crucial as, moments later, Blind struck.
Almost two of the four allocated minutes of stoppage time were up when Carl Jenkinson headed Marcos Rojo’s hopeful punt towards the edge of the area. Running into space, the Holland midfielder hit the ball first time and watched on as it crept past the sprawling Adrián. Cue bedlam amid the United supporters behind the goal and an almighty sense of relief among the players in white and black.
As Van Gaal conceded, his side were poor when it came to winning the second ball, generally looking slugglish and off the pace. The full-backs, Antonia Valencia and Luke Shaw – who was sent off late on for the second of two bookable offences – rarely ventured forward while positioned as the deepest United midfielder, Blind struggled to cope with the movement of Downing. Ahead of him Adnan Januzaj was largely anonymous and was replaced by Maourane Fellaini; Wayne Rooney worked tirelessly to influence the contest but constantly cut a frustrated figure.
And how curious it was to see United’s third-highest scorer of all time tracking the runs of Nolan, particularly when Falcao put in another display to suggest United would be foolish to make his loan move a permanent one in the summer. The Colombian continued to look a shadow of his former, fantastic self here, never more so than on 76 minutes when, following a delicious through-pass from Van Persie, he skewed his shot wide with the goal gaping ahead of him.
At that stage West Ham looked on course for a deserved victory but then came the latest of late sucker punches. United remain fourth and in strong contention for Champions League qualification but champions-in-waiting they are certainly not.
Man of the match Enner Valencia (West Ham United)