EQUALISER: Robin van Persie
IT TOOK the intervention of substitutes Robin van Persie and Ryan Giggs to prevent West Ham stealing another famous victory in this fixture.
The Dutch marksman converted his last-gasp equaliser with characteristic aplomb to force a replay and cancel out James Collins’ brace and reduce the euphoria of Joe Cole’s homecoming.
The conclusion bought relief for United but it will be of concern once again that the possession they enjoyed throughout did not translate into control or domination. Both sides made changes from their New Year’s Day victories but it did not alter their essential characters.
In the opening stages Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley sprayed passes around at leisure as West Ham sat back and invited the 11-times FA Cup winners to find gaps.
To that end, the Red Devils were enjoying their greatest success down West Ham’s left side where Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling were a constant menace to the inexperienced Dan Potts.
Hernandez was unable to connect with Smalling’s cross on nine minutes, while Danny Welbeck’s tap-in, delivered by his Mexican team-mate was ruled offside on 16 minutes.
It was no surprise when the breakthrough arrived on 23 minutes. Hernandez’s low cross eluded Welbeck but fell to Cleverley, who had time and space to pick his spot.
Yet West Ham posed a threat throughout. On 12 minutes Alou Diarra had a header cleared off the line – as did Nemanja Vidic prior to the Red Devils’ opener – and the east Londoners continually sought to expose United’s lack of a ball-winning presence in midfield. Jack Collison and Diarra were able to unsettle United’s artisans with some craft of their own.
The equaliser arrived just four minutes later. Joe Cole evaded the attentions of the United defence to deliver a curling cross for Collins, who restored parity with a glancing header inside David de Gea’s left-hand post.
The visitors could have entered the interval in the lead had Danny Welbeck been more accurate having burst onto Shinji Kagawa’s hooked pass. It was not an enjoyable afternoon for the England international on a rare start.
Just before the hour mark West Ham had the lead when Cole and Collins repeated their trick. Indeed it was a carbon copy when Cole delivered another pinpoint cross onto the head of Collins to send the home supporters into raptures.
Chances continued to fall both ways as this contest took on the complexion of an archetypal cup tie, with the underdogs matching their opponents punch for punch. Carlton Cole forced a save from de Gea on 57 minutes and could have had a third prior to the Manchester United equaliser
The arrival of Robin van Persie, Antonio Valencia and Ryan Giggs signalled the strength of the visitors’ bench. The Hammers, themselves bolstered by the arrival of Matt Jarvis and Mark Noble, withstood the pressure until injury time.
With four minutes indicated by fourth official Kevin Friend Giggs struck a long but accurate cross field ball to Van Persie, who, who took it in his stride despite pressure from James Tomkins and coolly slotted home the equaliser.