|photo by Gerald Yuvallos||via PhotoRee|
Manchester United drew 2-2 with West Ham in a mid-week trip to Upton Park, salvaging a point on a day when the visiting side played less than their usual best. Hauling themselves back from two separate deficits, the Reds were unable to take the final step and find a late winner against a physical and determined West Ham United side. Antonio Valencia and Robin Van Persie matched goals with Ricardo Vaz Te and Mohammed Diame, although it was Andy Carroll’s name that United fans found themselves cursing most after the conclusion of the spirited contest.
The home side began strongly, a not unexpected result amid the cauldron of noise at the Boleyn Ground, with Carroll narrowly skimming the post under gloaming skies. West Ham passed the ball crisply and ten minutes passed in a blur with the theme of the game not yet apparent, as both sides suffered from turnovers and found themselves unable to impose their respective gameplans. By the 15 minute mark, though, the theme of the contest was beginnign to come into focus: Matt Jarvis using pace to beat Rio Ferdinand to the end line, and Carroll outleaping his marker to head the ball into the path of Vaz Te’s for the opening goal – the Hammers’ speed and physicality getting the better of a diffident United defensive effort.
The away side seemed to be suffering through the general malaise that has plagued virtually all of their recent games, the end product bedeviled by passing that was not accurate enough, pace not quick enough, and movement not wily enough – through 25 minutes and the ball was still unfamiliar with the gentle caress of West Ham ‘keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen’s hands.
Although Jaaskelainen’s gloves were still unsullied five minutes later, the scoreline was leveled when Shinji Kagawa outplayed the entire West Ham defense to pick out an unmarked Valencia in front of goal, the winger finding himself left with only a tap in for the equalizer. The goal was the first of the season for the Ecuadorian, and it changed the complexion of the contest: for the first time in the half it was the visitors looking the more fluid of the two sides. If Sir Alex planned to pull out his famed hairdryer at the interval to castigate a largely uninspired performance, however, the final corner of the half offered him a golden opportunity to warm it up, with the Scot absolutely incandescent at the non-call on Carroll’s dangerous foul on United ‘keeper David De Gea just prior to the whistle.
Though the visitors emerged from the locker room fired up, the home side easily matched their intensity: Mohammed Diame hit an absolute screamer that curled into the far corner of De Gea’s net to edge his side back into the lead. The Senegalese midfielder offered up a moment of pure class that belied the defensive nature of his game and put United under the kosh for a second time on the evening.
The away side responded in fits and starts, but it was clear momentum was beginning to build -- the only question beign whether or not it woudl be 'one of those night's due to the superlative goaltending from West Ham's starter. Van Persie and Wayne Rooney nearly worked a corner to perfection to haul the visitors level, but Jaaskelainen got just enough on the ball to slow it down, allowing Gary O'Neil to make a goal saving clearance and momentarily preserve his side's advantage.
Busier now, Jaaskelainen continued to shine when called upon, denying Van Persie's on multiple occasions. But the West Ham ‘keeper found himself unable to cope with what happened near the 75 minute mark, as Kagawa wriggled free in the box, rocking both posts with his shot, before Van Persie equalized from a very sharp angle. Chicharito nearly stole a point late on, and although the Reds were in the ascendancy, they were disapointingly unable to pull out a late winner.
This is farlieonfootie for April 18.