Monday 19 March 2018

Martial keeps United's season alive

Manchester Utd 1 West Ham 1

Anthony Martial celebrates scoring Manchester United's first goal. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Anthony Martial celebrates scoring Manchester United's first goal. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Dimitri Payet lifts the ball high over the Manchester United wall to score for West Ham. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
West Ham's Dimitri Payet in action with Manchester United's Guillermo Varela. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Mark Ogden

It stopped the rot, for now anyway, but while Anthony Martial's late equaliser kept Manchester United alive in the FA Cup, Louis van Gaal's players offered little evidence to suggest they may actually overturn West Ham in an Upton Park replay to make it to the semi-finals.

Another 90 minutes and another afternoon of frustration unfolded for those inside Old Trafford who have grown tired of the same lack of ambition and quality produced by this United team.

It was West Ham, given flair and cutting edge by Dimitri Payet, who dominated this quarter-final and although he should not have been on the pitch to score his stunning 68th-minute free-kick opener, nobody could begrudge the visitors their goal.

United huffed and puffed, but Martial at least gave them a second bite at the cherry in the replay by volleying in Ander Herrera's cross from close range on 83 minutes.

Perhaps Van Gaal's players will have regained their confidence and form when the replay in east London, yet to be arranged, comes around. However, while this draw ensured that United's season cannot come crashing down on three fronts this week, this late escape may just prove to be a case of delaying the inevitable.

Quarter-final results prior to this game, with both Chelsea and Arsenal eliminated, should have given United even further encouragement to grasp the opportunity opening up before them.

West Ham would clearly offer a stern challenge - Slaven Bilic's team were unfortunate to emerge with no more than a point from Old Trafford in the Premier League in December - but with a semi-final up for grabs, and with none of the top four left to block United's way, this was surely the moment for Van Gaal's team to seize the moment.

But it was a strangely tentative United which began the game.

Perhaps last Thursday's humbling Europa League defeat at Anfield, on the back of the insipid 1-0 loss at West Brom the previous Sunday, had plunged United's morale back to the depths of December, when they failed to win a single game in any competition.

West Ham were simply brighter, more energised and clearly ready to go for the throat, to capitalise on the home team anxiety.

Yet despite the injuries that have afflicted Van Gaal's squad in recent weeks, the United manager started the game with four of his summer signings on the bench - totalling more than £70m in transfer fees - so injuries could not be used as a mitigating factor as his team struggled to impose itself.

Van Gaal had experience in his squad, but he chose not to use much of it, preferring to start with the likes of Guillermo Varela, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford.

West Ham, in contrast, were packed with experience and authority, and they were quickly able to gain control, displaying the self-belief that comes with a four-game winning streak.


Andy Carroll went close to scoring, and then creating, the opener twice inside the first six minutes, using his physical strength to torment the United defence.

The former Liverpool forward then flashed a diving header from Aaron Cresswell's cross over from 12 yards as West Ham maintained their hold on the game.

United, lacking class and nous in attacking positions, were instead restricted to half-chances - Lingard shot wide from distance while Rashford sent an ambitious scissor-kick high over the bar.

West Ham were containing United with ease at the same time as creating the clearest scoring chances, with David de Gea forced into a reflex save to keep out Emmanuel Emenike's header from another Cresswell delivery.

How United were missing the injured Wayne Rooney, or indeed the likes of Robin van Persie or Javier Hernandez, who were both deemed surplus to requirements by Van Gaal last summer.

There was an alarming lack of cutting edge, and even when United increased the tempo in the second half, they resembled a middleweight attempting to land blows on a heavyweight.

Yes, United produced some enterprising attacks with Lingard and Varela linking well down the right - Payet was booked in the 54th minute for a trip on Lingard after one such break - but it was nothing that gave West Ham too much cause for concern.

Darren Randolph did not have a shot to save until Herrera's 57th minute free-kick curled into his grasp, but it was hardly a test for the Republic of Ireland goalkeeper.

Herrera then saw a shot hit Winston Reid's arm after the ball had bounced off the defender's knee, but it was a flimsy penalty appeal by United.

Then came the key moment. With Payet and Rojo chasing a 50-50 ball in the penalty area, Old Trafford held its breath, largely because of Rojo's reputation as a rash tackler.

Rojo slid in and Payet fell to the ground but, with referee Martin Atkinson dismissing West Ham's penalty appeals, the official failed to book Payet for diving.

A yellow card would have been followed by a red, due to the Frenchman's earlier booking, but Payet escaped and he rubbed it in three minutes later by brilliantly beating De Gea from 25 yards after being fouled by Daley Blind.

United's luck seemed to be out, but Martial threw them a lifeline with his late goal at the end of a move started by himself 30 yards out. With seven minutes left, United had time to score a second and turn the game on its head, but their best chance fell to Michael Carrick, who shot inches wide from 20 yards.

West Ham then attempted to kill the tie without the need for Upton Park's last-ever cup tie when the replay is staged.

De Gea saved again, this time to tip Michail Antonio's shot wide of the far post, and West Ham peppered the goalkeeper with four corners in stoppage-time.

United held on. They are clinging onto their season with their fingertips, but it is a weak grip. (© Independent News Service)

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