West Ham vs Manchester United match report: Daley Blind rescues point after Cheikhou Kouyate opener

West Ham 1 Manchester United 1

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The Independent Football

It is fortunate for Manchester United that they have not lost their capacity to pinch late goals when the pressure is on, because if they continue to play this way under Louis van Gaal they will find themselves chasing games against more opposing teams whom they once blew away with ease.

Yes, there was something to be admired in the usual straining of every sinew to salvage something from a game in which United had very nearly thrown away and one could not quite buy Sam Allardyce’s protestations that his team were robbed. It was always on the cards that United would snatch the goal that Daley Blind supplied in the 92nd minute, but a more pressing concern for their Dutch coach was how they found themselves in such a situation. In a team in which attacking talent abounds, Van Gaal’s tactical creations occasionally have the effect of making expensive footballers look utterly bewildered as to what it is they should be doing. Perhaps the Dutchman is about to make fools of us all with his sophisticated vision for Manchester United, or perhaps he is just getting it wrong.

Manchester-United-Colombian-striker-Radamel-Falcao.jpgIt felt like the latter as Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Adnan Januzaj and Angel Di Maria all disappeared at times into the black hole of a United formation that they struggled to make work. Van Gaal’s contention that a dismal first half performance was a consequence of his team winning too few “second balls” felt like a gross over-simplification of a much deeper problem.

He also argued that Luke Shaw should not have been dismissed for the second of two late yellow cards, yet the foul in question on Stewart Downing might have been a red card in its own right.  Van Gaal did at least acknowledge that the challenge by the young Englishman was “tactically not so smart” which was putting it lightly.

They missed the chance to make two points up on Manchester City and stay in fourth place behind Southampton. In the end it was upon the likes of Wayne Rooney that Van Gaal’s team depended for the impetus as he was switched, from defensive to attacking midfield duties more than once. The introduction of Marouane Fellaini made a difference too.

Allardyce joked later that Van Gaal would never get the criticism for switching to a more direct game around the Belgian that the West Ham manager has received for doing the same in the past. The home team were much better in attack in the first half and once again it was David De Gea who came to the rescue of his side, especially after the break when he saved from Mark Noble.

West Ham had taken the lead early in the second half through Cheikhou Kouyate, the Senegal international converted to play in defence to cover for injuries, and they had their chances to put themselves out of sight before Blind rescued a point for his team.

The first half was desperate from United’s point of view with Blind often isolated and passed around in midfield. Alex Song was consistently the most influential man in the middle of the park in the first 45 minutes and even he could be careless in possession.

Out in the right channel, Van Persie looked more dispirited than usual. He swept a leg away from Noble early in the game and then swung an arm backwards into the face of James Tomkins as they both waited to head a ball forward. The referee Mark Clattenburg gave them both a talking-to and there was no mistaking the irritation in the Dutch striker’s demeanour.

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Robin van Persie fails to find the back of the net

The least impressive of the lot was Falcao whose miss with 14 minutes of the game told you everything you needed to know about his confidence. Monaco still want £43m for this man, and his agent Jorge Mendes has been telling the BBC all week what a good player he will turn out to be. On current evidence he is one economy Van Gaal can easily make come June.

De Gea tipped an early effort from Enner Valencia over the bar and then saved with his feet from Tomkins on 32 minutes. Valencia was the liveliest for the home team, in spite of a dreadful dive on 33 minutes that referee Clattenburg saw through.

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Cheikhou Kouyate scores the opening goal

On one of their best counter-attacks there was a good argument that Marcos Rojo, booked at the subsequent break in play, might have earned double the punishment in the space of a few seconds. Losing the ball he crashed into Valencia and then Noble in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the break.

It was an unusual and clever goal from Kouyate that took a deflection off Blind on its way in. Kouyate was up for a free-kick and controlled the ball with his back to goal when it broke to him, taking two touches to turn and, without letting it touch the turf once, volleyed the third past De Gea.

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Cheikhou Kouyate celebrates the opening goal

West Ham’s goal was deserved and it prompted the best period of play that the away team had managed all game. Rooney was pushed further forward and there were a couple of chances for Van Persie. He took neither of them. That pin-sharp finishing of old was missing, especially the second chance when Tomkins recovered to tackle him.

And then, as things became ever more desperate for Van Gaal, on came Fellaini and Van Gaal’s team were more direct. Falcao’s worst moment came not long afterwards when he brought down a long clearance from Rojo, exchanged passed with Van Persie and was through on goal. He decided to hit his shot with the outside of his right foot when the left would have been better and did not even hit the target.

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Wayne Rooney during Manchester United's draw with West Ham

The away team continued to force the issue and the chances kept coming. De Gea had to make a double save from Noble and then Kevin Nolan before they scored their equaliser. Carl Jenkinson’s header from a free-kick dropped the ball into the area and Blind finished nicely. This club can still do the late goals that have made their modern era so successful, Van Gaal will have been relieved to learn. It is the rest that needs work.

West Ham (4-5-1): Adrian; Jenkinson, Kouyate, Tomkins, Cresswell; Noble, Nolan, Song, Downing; Valencia (Jarvis, 82), Sakho.

Substitutes not used: Jaaskelainen (gk), O’Brien, Amalfitano, Cole, Oxford, Lee.

Manchester United (4-1-2-3): De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Rooney, Januzaj (Fellaini, 72); Van Persie, Di Maria, Falcao (Smalling, 90).

Substitutes not used: Valdes (gk), Mata, Herrera, McNair, Wilson.

Attendance: 34,499

Booked: West Ham Song, Adrian Manchester United Rojo, Shaw, Rooney

Sent off: Shaw

Referee: M Clattenburg

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