In the end it wasn’t quite the leap towards the title United fans had hoped their team would take tonight, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s men are a point closer to a 20th league title and, considering the abysmal performance they treated the traveling supporters to in the first hour, they can be satisfied with that.
If United are to indeed lift the title in May however, it’ll be a case of limping over the finish line rather than racing across it for this side is running on empty, almost nothing left in their tanks after a campaign that had promised so much for so long has somewhat petered out over the last month and a half.
West Ham, though, deserved their point particularly for their effort in the first half. Forget the Academy and their tradition, these days West Ham epitomise the term “long ball merchants” – no wonder Andy “I barge into keeper for fun” Carroll finds himself at home there.
After being deployed in midfield against Stoke, Wayne Rooney returned to his usual position up-front, with Shinji Kagawa again wide on the left, as Phil Jones was given the nod to partner Michael Carrick in midfield. Rafael returned in defence, where Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were both confirmed despite having played only three days ago.
Tom Cleverely sat out yet again after being omitted at Stoke and one has to wonder what he must have done to deserve such a treatment. Admittedly Cleverley had seen his form deteriorate in recent weeks, but it speaks volume that Sir Alex has chosen Rooney and Jones ahead of what had been one of the first names on the teamsheet throughout the season.
Rooney, who had looked so comfortable on Sunday, was a shadow of the player we all know he can be. His touch erratic, his body language showing very little in terms of effort, the United number 10 will remember this trip to Upton Park purely for a spat with Andy Carroll towards the end of the first half and a delicate cross for Van Persie at the beginning of the second half.
Rooney’s attitude mirrored United’s throughout a first half in which they were, quite simply, not resembling a champions-elect side in any way or form. Having fallen behind to Ricardo Vaz Te’s goal after 16 minutes after some fine work from Diame and Matt Jarvis, United struggled to create any clear cut chances, with Kagawa again too isolated on the left and Valencia his usual, anonymous self on the right.
When, with half an hour gone, the Japanese and Van Persie combined on the left, allowing Kagawa to get past the Hammers defence before presenting Valencia with the simplest of tap-ins, United fans were offered a timely reminder of what the former Dortmund player offers. Imagine what he could do if played in his favourite position.
After the restart, Carroll briefly took a break from running into defenders to unleash a venomous half-volley from 25 yards out that threatened to fly past David De Gea,before Diame put West Ham back in front with 10 minutes played in the second half with a superb curling effort.
The goal finally seemed to wake United up, as they rallied looking for an equaliser. Rooney’s shot slipped past Jaaskelainen but was cleared off the line by Gary O’Neil, before the West Ham keeper superbly denied Van Persie, whose header had met Valencia’s cross.
There was nothing the Finnish could do though when, with 77 minutes played, Giggs – who had replaced Wayne Rooney – played in Kagawa whose shot ricocheted off the post and into Robin Van Persie’s path. The Dutchman made no mistake, grabbing his second goal in the last two games and salvaging a point for United.
A point might not seem much, considering City’s late winner that cut the gap to 13 points, but at this stage of the season is another small step towards the finish line, which is now only 6 points away.