Let the scene be set. The last time United were hosted by West Ham, it ended in a 4-0 drubbing with a United squad sent home, heads well and truly hung in shame.
Fast forward to lunchtime, Saturday afternoon, half time whistle has gone and United are 2-0 down, looking as though it was to be “one of those days” once again. The ultimate pessimist would have dismissed this and written off the game, looking forward to the next one.
However, with a couple of changes and a United team that were not playing badly to begin with, the “never say die” attitude resurfaced once again, and with a 79th minute penalty, the comeback was complete. And with that, here are five things that could be taken away from the game.
1) Persistence often pays off
Being completely unaware of any statistics during the game, one would have thought at half time that United were having a disaster of a game, and were more than likely going to be on the end of an embarrassing defeat to the East London club. However, when looking more closely, it is not entirely surprising that United were able to pull the game back into contention.
Throughout the game United looked to attack and dominate possession. For example, the first half saw no fewer than 11 corners, possession was very much in favour of United and had the best of the attempts at goal. Indeed before half time, United looked a frustrated side, and the signs pointed to a game that West Ham were looking to steal. The epitome of this was probably emphasised by Green’s superb save from the returning Park’s strong shot at goal. However, come the second half, and West Ham looked to sit back and defend, and with the introduction of Hernandez and Berbatov later on, it looked unlikely that they would hold out without conceding.
2) Team Selection was not to blame for the first half misfortune
When down by two goals away from home, and with one eye on an upcoming Champions League Quarter Final against Chelsea, it would be easy to point to team selection and say that Sir Alex Ferguson simply got it wrong today. So with that in mind it was ironic to find the reason United were behind was due to errors from two of their most experience squad members in Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra conceding two penalties. Despite falling behind United were the better team and always looked to get forward despite the shaky defence.
Park put in an effective performance considering he had not played in a United shirt since Boxing Day, and Valencia continued to impress after coming back from such an horrific injury, consistently defying the odds.
3) Rooney may grab the headlines, but Hernandez made a big difference
For all the issues that Rooney has faced this season, a hat trick was just what was needed to remind fans of what he is capable of, particularly after a lacklustre showing for England in the past week. His free kick was perfectly placed, even if questions about the wall in place to defend it may well be asked. However, there can be no complaint about his second goal, with a well placed finish to bring the game back to level terms with less than 20 minutes remaining and with a rather fortunate handball decision given, Rooney’s day was nicely topped off with a smartly placed penalty. However, it can be argued that the introduction of Hernandez was what truly made the difference in a tactical sense.
Bringing him on added a new dimension to the attack from a player who throughout his debut season has been a nuisance to opposition defences, and today was no different, setting out his stall within the first couple of minutes of the second half, causing trouble by meeting Giggs’ cross. On this occasion he could not meet it sweetly, but it was a signal of intent and the fourth goal to seal the game with 6 minutes to go was certainly deserved, waiting to poach when the ball slipped through to him from Giggs’ cross. The change at half time also allowed Giggs to become more effective, with his role in the centre not quite working in the first half, his chance to trouble West Ham down the left after half time meant United looked far more threatening.
Continued on page two.