Arm wrestling, tug-of-war, non-event, a fair share of the spoils – this was precisely where this contest was headed until, in added time, Marcus Rashford finished off an Edinson Cavani cross from the left to send himself , Manchester United, and the Old Trafford faithful in ecstasy. Cue Rashford, who has been in a bad mood, running down Stretford End to slide on his knees, was joined by his jubilant team-mates.
Ralf Rangnick can take some deserved credit as both Cavani and Rashford were attacking, late introductions, as the German chased victory.
Before the spectacular climax, this had been a lackluster game that did not bode well for either team’s Champions League qualification hopes. However, for Manchester United, who overtook West Ham in fourth place until at least Sunday, the picture changes after a win in Rangnick’s 10th game as caretaker manager.
The first action featured a shot by Mason Greenwood that was blocked when it could have gone, a recurring foul of his that can frustrate Rangnick. Fernandes also made the wrong call by hitting a cross that lacked power: Jarrod Bowen dragged the ball down, dove forward and fired, though not on goal, a recurring theme.
The next mistake came when Vladimir Coufal wasted time and was assaulted by Fernandes, the right-back having to concede a foul. Cristiano Ronaldo hit this on the West Ham wall and Greenwood, again, took aim and once again failed to test Alphonse Areola, West Ham’s debut goalkeeper.
Harry Maguire, Manchester United’s only change in place of the outcast Victor Lindelof, whose home had been raided earlier in the week, was up against Michail Antonio and a clumsy touch from the center forward saw the captain win his first duel. Declan Rice was also victorious when he challenged Ronaldo, sitting the number 7 on his back with a strong challenge and then flick the ball away.
In a game of ping-pong, Fernades’ curved shot from the left caused Ronaldo to lunge at him and miss the ball. Then poor control by Anthony Elanga, again favored over Rashford in the starting XI, made Rangnick wince, but this came as no surprise as each team took turns finding a way to sink. For West Ham, Manuel Lanzini connected a pass to Pablo Fornals, received the ball back and hit it directly.
The “closest” Manchester United offered to a goal threat before half-time was a cry for a penalty from Ronaldo when he fell under a challenge from Kurt Zouma: Jonathan Moss waved it away and the referee did the right thing.
Half were sold out, finishing with zero shots on goal. Manchester United were in the same position as they had been at Brentford and an early burst involving Ronaldo, Alex Telles and Elanga recalled their start of the second half there, when the latter scored.
Fred then took out a first stop from either goalkeeper via a vicious swing that started low and went high and caused Areola to slam the ball. Was Manchester United moving? A backheel from Ronaldo towards Greenwood that sent West Ham into a fight suggested maybe.
The visitors’ response included Fornals playing in the Manchester United box, Bowen firing into the side of the net and Coufal lobbing the ball wildly into the sideline. Bowen was then fouled by Maguire and West Ham had a promising position on the right: Aaron Cresswell converted the free kick and Ronaldo headed wide.
This led to a Manchester United attack and corner, and when Telles connected it to Raphael Varane’s head, the centre-back’s header was deflected but at least drew oohs from the Stretford End, as did a spin and volley from Elanga which, again, omitted.
This was the last act of the young Swede, Rangnick decided that he should hook up with Rashford. The latter’s quick feet were involved in two starts, but in these he first ran down a dead end and then traded passes with Ronaldo before running out of space down the left.
Towards the final whistle, Tomas Soucek nearly scored for West Ham with a header that sailed over David De Gea’s right post. Then the goalkeeper’s reflexes prevented Varane from inadvertently scoring. In the end, Cavani and Martial had joined Rashford and Ronaldo and now came Manchester United’s dramatic end and victory.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism