Glorious homecoming for Joe Cole overshadowed by Dutch of class of Robin van Persie

Late equaliser from RVP denies Sam Allardyce a famous victory over his old sparring partner
  • @stevetongue

The mutual admiration between the managers of West Ham and Manchester United broadened out to include just about everyone who spoke of Robin van Persie following an exciting 2-2 draw between the clubs at Upton Park on Saturday.

The worry for Sam Allardyce, a long-time friend of Sir Alex Ferguson, is that Van Persie's will be the name in the headlines again after the replay at Old Trafford on Wednesday week.

The Dutchman scored the only goal of the Premier League game there – the fastest of the season at 32 seconds – when the teams met in November, inflicting West Ham's fifth successive defeat at the ground. On Saturday, he appeared for only the last 25 minutes, including the crucial period of added time during which he saved United from one of their occasional early exits from the competition that have prevented them adding to a record 11 wins.

It was the manner of the late equalising goal and Ryan Giggs's assist, as much as the sheer drama of it, that was on all lips afterwards. "Something they can show to kids, how to move and finish in the last third," said United's captain Nemanja Vidic.

"One of the classiest goals you will see this season," added Allardyce, whose own captain Kevin Nolan acknowledged: "What a touch and a finish, what a ball. Hats off to them."

Then there was local hero Joe Cole, who against most other teams would have assumed that he had assured victory by setting up both goals for James Collins before retiring wearily to the substitutes' bench after 78 minutes of an emotional return to the East End. "He is different class and in his prime, he is hard to stop. He is just sublime," Cole said poetically. "You take away Messi and Ronaldo and he's probably the best player in the world. Technically, he is fantastic. Moving central means there is a bit less running in there and he can use his technique and use his finishing, which is just incredible.

"He uses both feet. He is a joy to watch and a pain to play against. To be fair to us, you can't point the finger at anyone, it was just a world-class ball from Giggs and a world-class finish."

Cole, "really choked up" by the warmth of the reception he received, drew much appreciation for his own performance and it was easy to imagine Andy Carroll in particular salivating at the two crosses he put in for Collins to head home.

With Matt Jarvis, a second-half substitute, also excellent at delivery from the flanks, Ferguson believes West Ham are "the best team in the league" at crosses and set pieces.

That would suggest they do not need the 37-year-old former England captain David Beckham, a spectator on Saturday, even though Allardyce mischievously declined to rule out the possibility. "You never know," he said afterwards.

Another striker to follow Marouane Chamakh on loan, the Brazilian Wellington Paulista from Cruzeiro, is a far more likely arrival this week, although Allardyce could also enter the race for Loïc Rémy. Meanwhile Carroll and the influential midfielder Mohamed Diamé could both be fit for the replay.