MAN UTD 1, WEST HAM 1
How costly could the draws against Southampton and West Ham in the final two home league games of the season prove in Manchester United’s pursuit of Champions League football.
Had the Reds not squandered those four points, they would already be assured of a top-four spot.
But after the latest lapse against the Hammers, they head to Leicester for their last league game needing one point to secure their place in Europe’s elite competition.
And defeat against the Foxes would probably see United lose out such are in the fine margins as Chelsea, United and Leicester battle for the final two Champions League places.
It was another frustrating night as former Reds’ manager David Moyes returned to Old Trafford where the point guaranteed their Premier League status.
It was an evening when United had to battle back after falling behind to a penalty from Michail Antonio in first half stoppage time.
But an equaliser from 18-year-old Mason Greenwood early in the second half ensured it wasn’t a complete disaster.
Had United won, they would still have needed a point at Leicester so a draw wasn’t a disaster, just another disappointment after the Wembley loss on Sunday.Embed from Getty Images
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised his side for being on the cusp of a top-four place.
He said: “When we started after lockdown, we knew we had to go for it in terms of goal difference and points.
“We have been fantastic and obviously we would have liked to beat Southampton and West Ham.
“But this gives us a fantastic opportunity, a draw or 1-0 or 2-0 win provided the same outcome and starting point for Sunday.
“We said all along if we had a chance to go to Leicester with it our own hands, we would be delighted and we have given ourselves a good opportunity.”
Solskjaer added he had run out of superlatives to describe Greenwood’s exploits.
As for the penalty conceded, he said it was a natural reaction from Pogba who should have “taken it in the mush”.
Solskjaer pointed out an important second-half save from under-fire David De Gea proved why he keeps his place in the side.
Moyes was delighted to have made absolutely certain the Hammers were staying up.
“The players did a good job and thoroughly deserved the point,” he said.
Moyes added he can see “shoots of improvement” and he views the job as a great opportunity to prove what a great club it is.
The big guns returned after being rested for the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Chelsea.
Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial were back in the starting line up as Solskjaer made four changes.
Mason Greenwood and Timothy Fosu-Mensah were also included while De Gea kept his place. He remains the only player to have appeared in all 58 Premier League games since Solskjaer took charge.
The players losing out were Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Fred, Daniel James and the injured Eric Bailly.
It was same again for the Hammers after their 3-1 win over Watford last time out.
One minute’s silence was observed before kick-off in memory of Busby Babe Alex Dawson who had died aged 80.
The Reds made a bright start with no apparent hangover from the cup defeat.
Martial and Greenwood forced decent diving saves from Lukasz Fabianski in the opening three minutes.
Sadly for the Reds that was as good as it got in the opening period in which they toiled against the visitors masses defensive ranks.
And as the half progressed, the Hammers became more of a threat as Angelo Ogbonna and Antonio had chances.
There was a final, dramatic twist at the end of the half after Fosu-Mensah was booked for a foul.
To add insult to injury from the free kick, Declan Rice’s piledriver was handled by Pogba, though it was probably natural instinct to defend himself.
His arms were raised and, following a review by VAR official Peter Bankes, a penalty was awarded with Antonio sending De Gea the wrong way. The keeper had failed to save any of his last 20 spot kicks.
United made a change at the break as Fosu-Mensah made way for Wan-Bissaka.
The Reds needed to find a way through the packed defence and a moment of inspiration provided that in the 51st minute.
Greenwood played a two return passes with Martial before rifling a shot low past Fabianski, for the 17th goal of the season for the remarkable 18-year-old.
No teenager has scored more for the Reds in a season as he drew level with George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney.
De Gea atoned for recent errors with a brilliant reflex save to turn over Jarrod Bowen’s shot which deflected off Brandon Williams.
United still toiled to find another goal and with six minutes left Rashford made way for Odion Ighalo.
And with his first touch, Ighalo fired wide from a Martial cut back as he missed out on a great, late chance to snatch victory.