Manchester United nudged into the Champions League places for the first time since September after teenager Mason Greenwood sealed a hard-fought point against West Ham in the penultimate match of the season.
After seeing a 19-match unbeaten run come to an abrupt halt in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had to dust themselves down for a key clash with the relegation-threatened Hammers.
Paul Pogba’s needless handball allowed Michail Antonio to give David Moyes’ visitors a surprise lead from the spot, but United hit back through teenage star Greenwood to secure a 1-1 draw at an empty Old Trafford.
The point guarantees West Ham’s Premier League survival and was enough to ensure Solskjaer’s Reds are in a top-four spot for the first time since mid-September.
All eyes will be on Sunday’s fascinating encounter at the King Power Stadium, where United only need to avoid defeat to fifth-placed Leicester to secure a return to European football’s top table.
There were points on Wednesday night when it looked like they would blow this chance – no more so than when Antonio scored late in the first half after the video assistant referee picked up a blatant Pogba handball.
Former United captain Gary Neville said in his role as a Sky Sports commentator it was “embarrassing” to protect his face when Declan Rice took aim and homegrown talent Greenwood saved his blushes with a low strike early in the second half.
The 18-year-old moved level with George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney as United’s top-scoring teenager in a single season – a 17th of the campaign that could prove pivotal come the final shake-up.
It was, in truth, a rather limp response to the FA Cup loss to Chelsea, with a bright start quickly petering out after Anthony Martial forced Lukasz Fabianski into a low save and Greenwood also had an effort.
West Ham frustrated by sitting deep and soaking up the pressure, while posing questions with crosses from open play and set-pieces. Angelo Ogbonna underlined that threat when meeting a corner routine with a header that needed cleaner contact.
Marcus Rashford tried his luck from range in a bid to jolt their ponderous attack into life, before surprise inclusion Timothy Fosu-Mensah directed wide and Ogbonna threw himself in front of a Greenwood fizzer.
Solskjaer’s side were not only struggling for creativity but resilience at the back, with Victor Lindelof left breathing a sigh of relief when Antonio came in behind him to get away a header that David de Gea dealt with.