Van Persie to rescue as United maintain title grip
WEST HAM 2 MANCHESTER UTD 2
This was hardly 1992 or 1995 revisited for Manchester United, hardly as damaging as those chastening Upton Park trips which cost United the title.
These dropped points only delay the inevitable. United will be crowned champions but West Ham made them sweat a bit.
Sam Allardyce's side were indebted to goals from Ricardo Vaz Te and Mohamed Diame, the midfielder who outplayed Michael Carrick and Phil Jones. Andy Carroll's muscular presence gave United's defence a sustained headache.
Carroll was outstanding, also making some important clearances.
United were reliant on their own collective resilience, twice fighting back to equalise, and also to some elegant creativity from Shinji Kagawa, who made both goals for Antonio Valencia and Robin van Persie. Of concern for Alex Ferguson was an indifferent display from Wayne Rooney.
Manchester United had arrived with a team looking like they wanted to wrap the title up as quickly as possible but they discovered West Ham in determined mood. Ferguson had lined the champions-elect up in 4-2-3-1 fashion with Rooney linking midfield with the front-running Van Persie.
Valencia operated as an orthodox winger on the right, although darting in unmarked into the box for his goal, while Kagawa tucked in on the left, soon making some well-timed runs behind West Ham's defence.
Jones and Carrick formed the shield, immediately coming under pressure as West Ham lifted in balls to Andy , who was dropping off.
It proved a testing evening for United, particularly for Rooney, whose occasionally laxness in possession elicited exasperated responses from Ferguson. With 20 minutes left, a listless Rooney was removed for Ryan Giggs, much to the crowing delight of the West Ham fans.
West Ham started the better and maintained the pressure. Carroll constantly troubled United's defence. James Collins headed over a Gary O'Neil corner.
Diame was making some runs through the middle. So it was little surprise when West Ham took the lead after 17 minutes. For the watching Roy Hodgson, there was good and bad to ponder. Carrick failed to track Diame's run from midfield.
Matt Jarvis took over, advancing into the box down the inside-left channel.
He suddenly dummied to turn back, a feint bought by Rio Ferdinand. There have been few genuine "footballing reasons" to question Ferdinand this season but he was caught out badly by Jarvis. The winger's cross was good, lifted to the far-post, angled slightly back for Carroll. Outjumping Patrice Evra, Carroll nodded back across goal, inviting Vaz Te to score with a diving header between Rafael and Nemanja Vidic.
United equalised after 31 minutes. Van Persie appeared on the left, sending Kagawa into the box. The Japanese international timed his run superbly, getting behind the defence, shimmying through, reaching the goal-line and cutting the ball back across to the unmarked Valencia. The Ecuadorean has not enjoyed the best of seasons and he kept his celebrations to a minimum.
West Ham went hunting the lead again. Diame hit the side-netting. Vidic cleared a Jarvis cross as Carroll stormed in. Guy Demel drilled a cross over from the right, picking out Carroll, whose header was held by David De Gea. West Ham fans then appealed for a penalty when Vidic pushed Kevin Nolan. Rooney was not always impressing in midfield, losing possession, trying to remedy the situation by chasing back and fouling Diame.
Rooney had a few decent moments, sliding a fine pass through to Carrick, who dummied Collins but West Ham closed the gap. Rooney then became engaged in a little skirmish with Carroll at a corner.
Carroll, taking a slight push from Vidic, then emerged like a wrecking ball, skittling De Gea and Evra. He should have been cautioned by Lee Probert. Ferguson fumed on the touchline. Carroll was booked early in the second half for an innocuous offence.
Challenging De Gea, Carroll was actually held by the Spanish 'keeper but somehow Probert deemed the West Ham striker guilty. Carroll then demonstrated his technical qualities, chesting down the ball and sending a left-footed volley just over De Gea's crossbar in the Bobby Moore Stand.
De Gea was soon beaten. Demel laid the ball back down the right to Diame, who turned Rooney far too easily and curled a superb shot past De Gea.
Allardyce stood in the technical area, a smile dancing along his lips. All those suggestions that his teams cannot play good football were ridiculed here.
United tried to equalise. From a low Van Persie corner, seemingly a move fashioned at Carrington, Rooney shot goalwards. Jussi Jaaskelainen saved but the ball continued and O'Neil cleared off the line.
United almost levelled after 69 minutes. Van Persie met Valencia's cross with a close-range, powerful header but Jussi Jaaskelainen pushed the ball over.
Ferguson had seen enough of Rooney for the night, withdrawing the England striker and sending on Giggs. Rooney marched straight to the bench. There were no histrionics, no sign of dissent but his mood must have been dark.
United kept pressing. With 13 minutes remaining, Carrick slipped the ball through to Kagawa, whose shot beat Jaaskelainen, struck both posts but there was Van Persie, lurking with intent, driving the ball in to the roof of the net.
United pushed for the winner. Van Persie went close with a header and then flashed a shot wide. Carroll continued to give United grief, jumping up and accidentally catching Vidic with his forearm.
Vidic immediately went and indicated an elbow to Probert. Carroll then frustrated Javier Hernandez before West Ham almost won it in injury-time. Ferdinand lost the ball to Matt Taylor who blazed over.
Carroll continued to run around, alarming United and the final whistle must have sounded as a relief for Vidic and Ferdinand. (© Daily Telegraph, London)