MAN UNITED 2, WEST HAM 1
Manager Louis van Gaal praised the fighting spirit of his 10-man Manchester United side following their hard-earned home win against West Ham.
The Dutchman says his players were rewarded for their efforts as they recorded only their second victory in six Premier League matches.
He said: “We had to fight, fight, fight and I was pleased with the attitude of my players who fought to the end.
“And if you do that, you will be rewarded by the result.”
It was backs to the wall for the last half hour after Wayne Rooney was sent off for a wild kick at Stewart Downing.
Van Gaal pointed out there were other professional fouls in the game which went unpunished, but Rooney’s mistake was his was “too unfriendly.”
United certainly rode their luck as the Hammers were incensed after Kevin Nolan had a late goal chalked off for the most marginal of offsides as the Reds had to endure another tortuous finish to a match.
When United opened a two-goal lead midway through the opening half through goals from Rooney and Robin van Persie, it looked as though victory would be a breeze.
How wrong United were as Diafra Sakho halved the deficit before half time while United had to play the last half hour with 10 men after Rooney was sent off.
Hammers’ manager Sam Allardyce was left to reflect on what might have been and was unhappy that Nolan’s leveller was disallowed.
“The assistant referee must have been a super-human being with x-ray vision to spot that as apparently his (Nolan’s) head was offside. He cost us after dropping an almighty bollock,” he said.
Allardyce was also critical of his side saying they contributed to their own downfall.
“Our poor finishing and sloppy defending cost us as we had chances and blew it after working hard to get an equaliser.”
Such was the magnitude of United’s injury woes – they were without nine players plus the suspended Tyler Blackett – that teenager Patrick McNair was handed his debut in the centre of defence. And the 19-year-old did not look out of place in the back line on his senior bow.
In the wake of the absences of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, McNair partnered Marcos Rojo at centre back while there was also a Reds’ debut at left-back for summer signing Luke Shaw.
There was no hangover to the shock 5-3 defeat at Leicester early on as United went ahead after less than five minutes when Rafael Da Silva made an overlapping run forward and crossed for Rooney to glide a delightful shot wide of keeper Adrian’s dive.
It was Rooney’s third goal of the season and 176th in the Premier League as he claimed third place outright from Thierry Henry in the Premier League’s list of all time top scorers.
And it got better when United doubled their lead midway through the opening period when Rademel Falcao set up van Persie who found the net with a clinical finish into the far corner.
But if United thought they were in for an easy ride, they were mistaken as the Hammers halved the deficit six minutes before the break from a corner. Enner Valencia’s headed hit the crossbar and Diafra Sahko headed home the rebound.
Falcao came close to scoring his first goal for the Reds early in the second period when he was denied by a super save from Adrian.
There was further drama just short of the hour when Rooney was sent off for a wild challenge on Downing as referee Lee Mason immediately brandished a red card.
Falcao was sacrificed for Darren Fletcher as van Gaal looked to strengthen the midfield and hold on to their slender 2-1 advantage.
It appeared to be working well until Nolan breached their United’s defence with seven minutes left as he headed home Carl Jenkinson’s cross. The joy quickly became bitter disappointment as the assistant referee raised his flag to signal offside, a massive let off for the Reds as it was most marginal of decisions.