United take full advantage of Irons ref justice
West Ham 0-2 Manchester Utd
Jose Mourinho got the big calls right. Mike Dean did not. That was the story of this tired encounter, ruined by an early red card and a brittle referee who lost his way - abetted by an errant linesman late on - with, ultimately, Manchester United remaining on track in their pursuit of the top four and, maybe, a genuine and unexpected Premier League title challenge.
Certainly the United manager has a glint in his eye that suggests he believes it might be on and that his own mojo has finally returned.
"In this moment we see them, all of them are there," Mourinho said of the five teams in front of United, still in sixth but closing that gap, and in their sights. And it felt like a warning shot.
Dean will feel hunted after this. The criticism was universal and damning and there should be repercussions also for the official as he sent off West Ham's Sofiane Feghouli after just 15 minutes, spoiling the contest, and did not manage to keep control after that.
To compound the home side's sense of burning injustice Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 18th goal of the season was scored from a clear offside position, with Dean let down by assistant referee Simon Long, who somehow failed to flag even though the striker was standing still when the ball came to him. And the official was in line.
"Too tired to think well," was Mourinho's verdict after a jaded performance from his team - although there was no excuse, surely, for those officials.
This though was the poorest United have played in what is, nevertheless, now a formidable run of 11 league matches without defeat and an impressive sequence of six wins in a row.
Despite the fatigue of both teams playing only 48 hours after their previous match, Mourinho certainly kept his wits about him and used the huge strength at his disposal which always felt like it could make the difference. It was his substitutions - bringing on Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford - that inevitably proved decisive.
Mourinho trotted out the bad luck and bad decisions that he feels United have been on the end of this season but he knows he got away with this one with the 10 men of West Ham pushing his players right up until Mata's opening goal.
Indeed had Michail Antonio been more decisive seconds before United went ahead then Mourinho conceded his team would not have won. Instead, put clear on goal by the impressive Manuel Lanzini, with a smart threaded pass, Antonio side-footed straight at David de Gea and the opportunity was lost.
"You have to score it," West Ham manager Slaven Bilic lamented. "And if you score it anything is possible."
United will point to an ugly, over-the-ball challenge in the second half by Cheikhou Kouyate on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, which could have warranted a dismissal, but the incident on which the game turned went hugely in their favour.
Bilic later even argued that Phil Jones, who lunged in, was more the aggressor than Feghouli, who was making his first start in the league, and who also launched himself after over-running the ball. Dean had a clear view and got it wrong. Jones' reaction, rolling around, and the reaction of the United players maybe influenced him but it was still a bad call.
West Ham will appeal but even if successful that will be cold comfort and it was all the more of a shame for the spectacle as they had started well and appeared threatening.
Despite the man advantage, United laboured but should have gone ahead when Mkhitaryan crossed low to Antonio Valencia, whose point-blank shot was somehow pushed away by Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph before the whole of the ball had crossed the goal-line. Even then the rebound fell to Jesse Lingard who contrived to strike it against post from only a couple of yards out.
Mourinho was not happy. That was evident from his demeanour and he hauled Matteo Darmian - on a booking - off at half-time and cleverly dropped Michael Carrick back into defence, charging Mata to add more creativity.
Suddenly United did look more threatening - but it was Antonio who should have scored.
That incident was pivotal because United then attacked, with Jones sending the ball out left to Rashford, who skilfully worked his way to the byline and had the calmness to look up and pick out Mata, who had pulled into space, and his first-time shot gave Randolph no chance. Again Mourinho responded, immediately bringing on Chris Smalling and pushing Carrick back into midfield to give his team greater solidity.
Bilic turned to Andy Carroll but before he could make an impact, the game was over, with West Ham failing to clear Ander Herrera's charged-down shot, as Pedro Obiang presented the ball back to the midfielder on the area's edge, and it was turned through to Ibrahimovic.
The Swede was offside but the flag stayed down and the striker's predatory instinct took over as he quickly swivelled and prodded the ball between Randolph - who had just fumbled Rashford's shot against the goal-frame - and his near post and into the net.
It was like a pin being put in those bubbles, just as was Feghouli's sending off, and it was game over. For West Ham fortune was hiding; for Mourinho, despite his protestations, despite his smart changes and tactical switches, he was lucky.
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