Manchester United vs West Ham result: Paul Pogba's two penalties close gap on top-four

Manchester United 2-1 West Ham United: The home side needed two penalties to maintain their push for a top four place

Mark Critchley
Old Trafford
Saturday 13 April 2019 19:04
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The gloves were off. Paul Pogba lost one mitten in a tussle for possession early during the initial stages of this hard-fought and hardly-deserved Manchester United victory over West Ham United. He discarded the other soon after. It was time to get his hands dirty.

Two Pogba penalties, both dispatched powerfully and without the usual stuttered run-up, would prove enough for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side to record an ugly and unconvincing win over visitors whose performance merited a point, at least.

Felipe Anderson’s equaliser at the start of the second half had given West Ham hope of leaving Old Trafford with something to show for their efforts. Anderson certainly deserved more, having seen an early goal incorrectly ruled out for offside.

And yet, thanks to Pogba’s two nerveless spot-kicks, United are two points outside the top four. After a run of four defeats in five games, this is an important win, arresting their sudden slide.

Barcelona will have seen little to worry about, though. Ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final, Solskjaer should be concerned that a display as disjointed and uninspiring as this one – which little created in open play – will be severely punished in the Nou Camp.

West Ham, after all, should have taken an early lead when Hernandez’s deft downward header bounced through to Anderson. He beat De Gea with a half-volley but the flag was raised. It should not have been. Diogo Dalot, on the far side, was playing Anderson on.

There were few protests from Anderson or his team-mates, who had not noticed Dalot’s poor positioning, but West Ham would soon find something else to complain about. Having had a goal wrongly disallowed, the visitors then conceded a contentious penalty.

Robert Snodgrass’ challenge on Juan Mata came only an inch or so inside the box, having started outside of it, but referee Graham Scott pointed to the spot. It was a clumsy challenge but more of a shoulder barge than a tackle, with minimal contact. A soft call, at best.

Paul Pogba celebrates his first-half penalty

Pogba remains United’s penalty-taker despite missing three already this season. This time, there was none of the usual theatrics, which have helped to telegraph his intentions in the past. Three long and confident strides instead sent Lukasz Fabianski the wrong way.

United did not deserve to be ahead on the balance of play and West Ham could feel aggrieved to be behind, particularly Anderson. The winger saw one near-post flick on drop across the face of David de Gea’s goal. No team-mate was on hand to apply the vital touch.

Yet four minutes into the second half, Anderson would show the instinct that West Ham had lacked up to that point. Manuel Lanzini’s cross to the far post invited a clinical, telling touch. Anderson found it, poking the ball into a sprawling De Gea and over the goal-line.

Felipe Anderson celebrates his second-half equaliser

The world’s best goalkeeper was to blame. De Gea could not only have turned Anderson’s attempt away had he moved across his goal quicker, but it was also his loose pass to Pogba which had allowed the visitors to win the ball back at the start of the move.

Like in the defeat at Molineux at the start of this month, De Gea’s distribution had cost United an equalising goal. Could West Ham, like Wolverhampton Wanderers before them, now go on to win?

Michail Antonio certainly came closest to establishing a deserved Hammers lead. First, he bypassed Fred and Phil Jones to cut inside from the right and unleash a rising, left-footed drive which cracked back off the crossbar.

The Frenchman celebrates his second penalty

Minutes later, Antonio was rising at the far post to direct a powerful header into the ground and up towards the top left-hand corner. De Gea redeemed himself, acrobatically palming the goal-bound effort away. Only one side looked like winning. It was West Ham.

And yet, another clumsy challenge in their own penalty area cost them. It was substitute Ryan Fredericks this time, fouling Anthony Martial after he had been sent through one-on-one. Unlike with the Snodgrass call, there could be no complaints.

Pogba eschewed the stuttered run-up once more. This one was hit harder than the first, low and straight into the bottom left-hand corner. West Ham’s resolve ebbed away. United held on for a significant if undeserved win, earned the hard way.

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