A draw was probably the fairest result, but for very different reasons. In West Ham's case, it was for the determination with which they clawed back a two-goal deficit having dominated the first half and most of the second, while United, despite a performance heavy with post-Vienna lethargy, deserved reward for two moments of individual brilliance: the through- ball by Eric Cantona which released Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the opening goal, and the perfectly-weighted shot by David Beckham which doubled their lead.
That the visitors might score once, far less twice, had seemed highly improbable during the opening 45 minutes. West Ham enjoyed almost constant possession, though not always the pressure to match, and it was 14 minutes before Peter Schmeichel was required to make a save. As if still short of practice, he spilled a cross three minutes later, and barely recovered in time to block Ilie Dumitrescu's shot.
It was a moment which summed up the half. Manchester sat back and allowed their opponents space to build, an invitation Ian Bishop and Michael Hughes gleefully accepted, but for all the runs of Dumitrescu and Iain Dowie's donkey-work, only rarely was West Ham's strike force any more threatening than the cuddly, hammer-headed mascot who paraded before kick-off. Dumitrescu's shot flew across the face of the goal after 21 minutes, as did that of Bilic seven minutes later, but the home side were no closer to a goal than after 25 minutes, when what was at least a 50-50 shout for handball in the area by Brian McClair was waved away by Peter Jones.
That the Hammers might suffer for failing to take advantage of their dominance was apparent five minutes before the break, when Solskjaer's close-range shot brought a fine save from Ludek Miklosko. It was the same player who put United ahead within 10 minutes of the restart, though in truth he could do little else after receiving a pass from Cantona which paralysed the defence, and when Beckham found the top corner beyond Miklosko's right hand with 15 minutes left, a second successive 2-0 home defeat seemed assured.
The arrival of Florin Raducioiu 10 minutes earlier, however, had already injected a welcome dose of pace into West Ham's forward line, and now a team which had previously scored just 13 goals in 16 Premiership matches reacted to the injustice of their plight with a marvellously spirited recovery.
It was Raducioiu who turned Ronny Johnsen before shooting inside Schmeichel's far post with 12 minutes to go, and just 90 seconds later, the goalkeeper's all-or-nothing challenge as Hughes ran on to Julian Dicks' pass brought him face-to-face with one of the finest penalty-takers in the country. Dicks, whose performance was flawless, hit the spot-kick with such ferocity that Schmeichel was probably relieved not to get a hand to it.
Goals: Solskjaer (54) 0-1; Beckham (75) 0-2; Raducioiu (78) 1- 2; Dicks pen (80) 2-2.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Bowen, Bilic (Potts, 72), Rieper, Dicks; Rowland (Raducioiu, 62), Moncur, Bishop, Hughes; Dumitrescu, Dowie. Substitutes not used: Lampard, Jones, Sealey (gk).
Manchester United (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel; Irwin, May, Pallister, Johnsen; Poborsky (P Neville, 65), Beckham, McClair, Giggs; Cantona; Solskjaer. Substitutes not used: Cruyff, Scholes, Appleton, Pilkington (gk).
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).
Booked: West Ham Bowen, Bilic. Man United Solskjaer.
Man of the match: Dicks.
United's results after
1996/97 CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE
11/9/96 Juventus 1 Man U 0
14/9/96 Man U 4 Forest 1 (Premiership)
25/9/96 Man U 2 Rapid Vienna 0
29/9/96 Man U 2 Spurs 0 (Prem)
16/10/96 Fenerbache 0 Man U 2
20/10/96 Newcastle 5 Man U 0 (Prem)
30/10/96 Man U 0 Fenerbache 1
2/11/96 Man U 1 Chelsea 2 (Prem)
20/11/96 Man U 0 Juventus 1
23/11/96 Middlesbro 2 Man U 2 (Prem)
4/12/96 Rapid Vienna 0 Man U 2
8/12/96 West Ham 2 Man U 2 (Prem)
P W D L
Europe 6 2 1 3
Games after 5 2 1 2
1995/96 UEFA CUP
12/9/95 Rotor Volgograd 0 Man U 0
16/9/95 Man U 3 Bolton 0 (Prem)
26/9/95 Man U 2 Rotor Volgograd 2
1/10/95 Man U 2 Liverpool 2 (Prem)
P W D L
Europe 2 0 2 0
Games after 2 1 1 0
1994/95 CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE
14/9/94 Man U 4 IFK Gothenburg 2
17/9/94 Man U 2 Liverpool 0 (Prem)
28/9/94 Galatasaray 0 Man U 0
1/10/94 Man U 2 Everton 0 (Prem)
19/10/94 Man U 2 Barcelona 2
23/10/94 Blackburn 2 Man U 4 (Prem)
2/11/94 Barcelona 4 Man U 0
6/11/94 Aston Villa 1 Man U 2 (Prem)
23/11/94 IFK Gothenburg 3 Man U 1
26/11/94 Man U 0 Arsenal 0 (Prem)
7/12/94 Man U 4 Galatasaray 0
10/12/94 QPR 2 Man U 3 (Prem)
P W D L
Europe 6 2 2 2
Games after 6 5 1 0