Twice West Ham United took the lead. Twice the eventual Premier League champions pulled it back, Manchester United eventually using a 77th minute goal from Robin van Persie to draw the Hammers, 2-2 at Upton Park.
As with most Red Devil performances, today’s left it uncertain whether the result was deserved, fortunate, or predictable. Despite 11 places and 42 points separating the sides before today’s game, the gap on the pitch was more related to circumstance than performance. Manchester United did dominate possession (66 percent) and changes (six shots on goal to two), but their biggest advantages came while they chased the match. Always unlikely to dictate play under normal circumstances, the Hammers were even more inclined to sacrifice ambition for conservation when they went in front. Twice.
If it wasn’t for Shinji Kagawa, West Ham would have spent even more time in front. Instead, the Japanese international, Man United’s best player on the day, was the key part in each equalizer.
In the first half, 15 minutes after Ricardo Vaz Te put the hosts in front, Kagawa dribbled through the right side of the Hammer defense before playing a ball from the byline through the six. Antonio Valencia was left with what was surely one of the easiest goals of his career.
Twenty-two minutes after West Ham’s second — a brilliant left-footed strike from Mohamed Diame — a deft turn in the top of the Hammers’ area allowed Kagawa to put a shot off Jussi Jaaskelainen’s right post. The rebound went back across goal to Van Persie who, despite being in an offside position, was allowed to guide home the game’s final, controversial goal. (More on RVP and the offside goal later.)
Curiously, Kagawa was off a minute later, Alex Ferguson sacrificing him to bring on Javier Hernández. Without the man who’d created both his team’s goals, Ferguson was practically conceded a draw, even if his substitution wasn’t a defensive one.
Kagawa’s performance may have cost West Ham two points, but against an opponent who’d only dropped points six times in 32 games, Sam Allardyce should see Wednesday’s result as a point won. Up to 11th place with 39 points, whatever razor-thin fears Hammers fans had of being drawn into a relegation scram can be crumpled up and tossed. As we suspected from day one this season, West Ham’s staying up.