Blind denies West Ham as Manchester United salvage point
Cheikhou Kouyate opener looked to have won it until the second minute of injury time
Daley Blind of Manchester United celebrates after scoring an injury-time equaliser aganist West Ham at the Boleyn Ground. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyate (left) scores the opener against Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground. Photograph: Gerry Penny / EPA
West Ham United 1 Manchester United 1
An injury-time strike from Daley Blind earned Manchester United a point that they scarcely deserved. The visitors had been wretched for large parts of this match and looked to be heading for a first defeat in 17 games following Cheikhou Kouyate’s superbly imaginative strike on 49 minutes. However, Blind broke West Ham hearts late on with a first-time shot after West Ham had failed to clear Marcos Rojo’s lofted ball into the area.
With both of his first-choice centre-backs, Winston Reid and James Collins, ruled out with hamstring strains, Sam Allardyce was forced to play James Tomkins and Kouyate in the heart of his defence. Andy Carroll’s absence with an ankle injury also meant a return for Diafra Sakho.
The visitors’ build-up to this match was overshadowed by stories of a sex tape involving an unnamed United player, a woman in her 20s and a subsequent internal investigation. The on-field focus, however, was on closing the gap with City and Van Gaal recalled Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones, Adnan Januzaj and Radamel Falcao from the team that knocked Cambridge out of the FA Cup in midweek.
Even with West Ham’s injuries, this remained a daunting task for United given they were facing a team that had lost just once on home soil in 10 games, and that a narrow defeat to Arsenal. For their part, Van Gaal’s men were unbeaten on their travels since losing 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium three months ago.
The two teams matched up in formation, adopting as they did a four-man defence, a midfield diamond and two strikers. It was United who began in more threatening style and they could have taken the lead in the fourth minute when Robin van Persie pounced on a horrendous pass by Alex Song across this own area. Fortunately for the midfielder, the ball ran away from the Dutchman at the crucial moment.
There were further errors from both sides in what was a frantic start to this contest. Amid the flurry, West Ham found their feet and began to exert real pressure on the United goal. Twice in a minute David de Gea was forced to make reaction saves from Enner Valencia as United increasingly struggled with the muscular, high-pressing approach of their opponents.
The visitors’ key men were struggling to make their presence felt, in particular Falcao and Wayne Rooney, with the latter’s presence on the right of midfield a curious sight given he was spending much of his time tracking the runs of Kevin Nolan.
On his last visit here, Rooney opened the scoring with an audacious strike from the halfway line. Given his positioning here, it increasingly felt he would have to repeat the trick if he was going to get first goal for United since St Stephen’s Day.
West Ham needed to make their growing superiority count and on 33 minutes it appeared they had taken the lead when James Tomkins, having arrived at the back post to meet Aaron Cresswell’s curling free-kick, stabbed a shot at goal. De Gea, however, saved the effort with an outstretched boot.
The moment should have been a wake-up call for the men in white and black but their attempts to counter West Ham’s positive approach continued to be feeble. At one stage, Kouyate was able to glide past Januzaj with utter ease and charge towards the heart of the opposition defence before being stopped by yet another desperate United tackle.
Rojo received a booking in the final stages of the first half after committing fouls on two West Ham players, Valencia and Mark Noble, in a matter of seconds. It had been that type of half for Van Gaal’s side.
West Ham took the lead soon after half-time. Noble’s free-kick into the area was teasing but of no great threat. However, Rooney and Jones made a mess of clearing the ball and as it sat up for Kouyate he juggled the ball twice before swivelling and hitting a shot past De Gea that took the slightest of deflections off Blind. In his first appearance since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, the Senegal international had his second goal for the hosts, and in some style.
United’s reaction to going behind was to finally show some sustained intent. Van Persie forced Adrian into a save before the same player saw a seemingly goal-bound attempt blocked by Tomkins’s sliding frame. Yet it was West Ham who came closest to scoring the second goal of this game when Carl Jenkinson’s cross into the area drifted over De Gea and almost landed in the far corner of the net.
With time running out, Van Gaal brought Marouane Fellaini on for Januzaj. The Belgian moved to the tip of United’s diamond while Di Maria moved out to the left. With the change came even more urgency from the visitors and with 14 minutes left they thought they had secured an equaliser when Falcao and Van Persie combined at the edge of West Ham’s area, with the latter playing a delicious return pass into the path of his strike partner. However, with only Adrian to beat, Falcao managed to skew his shot wide.
Van Persie came closer with a low shot that forced Adrian into a save before Nolan and Noble forced De Gea to do the same in the closing stages. That appeared to be that but Blind was on hand to pounce. Luke Shaw was sent off late on for a second yellow card following a late lunge on substitute Matt Jarvis but, ultimately, this was an occasion for United to savour.