68 mins: Declan Rice tries to repeat the supergoal he scored against Watford last week, but this one doesn’t quite curl or dip enough and it screams wide of goal.
65 mins: In Soucek v Fernandes we’ve got a midseason-signing-of-the-season face-off. I guess Fernandes wins it, but both have been transformational I think.
62 mins: Save! Wan-Bissaka gives the ball away on the United right and West Ham move it swiftly to the other side where Bowen’s shot flicks Williams’ boot, but De Gea reacts well to tip over.
60 mins: Fernandes tees up Pogba, who has time to take a touch and line up the shot, but it goes high and wide.
58 mins: “On the subject of Pogba at the free kick, there’s a parallel with playing the bouncer in cricket,” writes Gary Naylor. “You know you’re in the firing line, so you have to plan – duck, sway or wear it. If you raise your hands, you’re going to get caught.” This is true, except that footballers defending a free-kick can’t really duck or sway, so it’s just a question of how they wear it.
56 mins: Williams v Bowen is the night’s most intriguing match-up. Williams runs into the penalty area, feels an arm leaning against him, and goes down. The referee tells him to get up.
53 mins: Bowen gets the better of Williams again, cuts onto his left foot, but is closed down by two defenders before he can get the shot away.
52 mins: That’s the way to beat a side defending in depth and numbers: get the ball towards the edge of the penalty area and then use rat-a-tat passing and lightning movement to take it from there. Very close to undefendable.
GOAL! Manchester United 1-1 West Ham (Greenwood, 50 mins)
Excellent build-up here from United, with Greenwood passing to Martial, getting it back, giving it to Martial again, getting it back again, and then smashing a low left-footer inside the near post. Almost a trademark finish, if an 18-year-old can have one of those.
46 mins: The Hammers are really looking very decent here. The way they stroke the ball about in the first minute of the second half is really excellently good, but Johnson’s cross at the end of it is not.
46 mins: And they’re off! Again!
One half-timely change for Manchester United: Wan-Bissaka replaces Fosu-Mensah. The second half will begin imminently.
“Ball coming at speed directly at your face. I don’t think that thousands of years of evolution can be unlearned,” argues Mary Waltz. I do have sympathy for Pogba there, but I noted that Gary Neville, an actual professional footballer (once) had none.
“Did is miss something or did Pogba not get a yellow card there? Surely, that’s gotta be a yellow, right?” No yellow. It was an act of cowardice rather than malice.
Half time: Manchester United 0-1 West Ham
45+3 mins: And that’s the last significant action of the half! Manchester United started excellently, got gradually worse, and trail at the break!
GOAL! Manchester United 0-1 West Ham (Antonio, 45+2 mins)
Antonio sends De Gea the wrong way and sidefoots his penalty gently into the empty half of goal!
45+1 mins: This is going to be a penalty. I can’t really blame Pogba for raising his hands, given the speed at which a ball was rocketing towards his head, it’s a basic human impulse. Sadly it’s one that footballers have to learn to override.
45 mins: The free-kick is passed infield to Rice, who smashes a drive straight into Pogba! His hands were up and West Ham are asking for a penalty!
45 mins: Fosu-Mensah is booked for bringing down Antonio as he built up another head of steam.
43 mins: Chance for West Ham! Johnson sends in a high cross that dips towards Lindelof at the far post, but Antonio arrives on the scene at the last moment and the pair combine to send the ball towards goal from six yards or so, but straight at De Geat! United might well have been given a free-kick had the ball gone in the net, but we shall never know.
39 mins: Chance! This time it’s Williams outfoxing Bowen, his cross deflects off Soucek to Greenwood, and he smashes a shot into a defender.
38 mins: The full-backs combine, Williams crossing from the left and Fosu-Mensah running infield from the right and attempting a jumping backheel flick-volley which would have been splendid had he connected properly, but wasn’t.
36 mins: Rashford stings Fabianski’s palms with a vicious, dipping 30-yarder. The keeper can’t catch it, but can push it away to safety. “Too slow so far from United it’s like watching a peak LVG team,” moans Neil Carter. “Very easy for the Irons with Antonio lurking always a threat. We need to up the intensity which seems to be tricky under the current circumstances. Never thought I’d say this but we are missing Shaw.”
33 mins: Everything’s a bit slow at present, but West Ham are probably looking the more dangerous. In particular, Bowen is giving Williams headaches on the right.
31 mins: From the corner Bowen crosses, Ogbonna wins the header, but he sends the chance wide.
30 mins: Now West Ham a spell of pressure. They take their time getting the ball into United’s half, but then Fornals lifts it crossfield to Bowen, who comfortably outmanoeuvres Williams, but Matic gets back to sweep up the danger.
27 mins: A long spell of United possession ends with Rashford taking on Johnson and losing.
23 mins: Fosu-Mensah finds space on the right, but Pogba delays the pass for a vital second and by the time he releases it the full-back is offside. Shame, as it was a great chance to make a great chance, although nobody converted the cross anyway.
21 mins: The corner’s a tasty one, but it lands on Maguire’s boot and is cleared. West Ham work the ball wide again and Bowen crosses, this time picking out Maguire’s head. Ogbonna challenges a little too hard, and United will clear from the free-kick.
20 mins: Antonio rips past Williams on the right, and Maguire turns his cross behind for a corner. The only problem with Antonio ripping past Williams on the right is that he’s not then in the middle when the cross comes in.
18 mins: Martial tires of the search for space and bangs a rising shot from 23 yards or so which rises well over the bar.
17 mins: West Ham have established their foothold in the game. In the first couple of minutes their backline was a little high, giving Martial space to run behind, but they have since dropped back and are now making life difficult for the hosts.
14 mins: Chance for United! Rashford lifts the ball into the area from the left, picking out Fernandes, but he controls it with his right foot into his left shin, and it rolls out of play. “His touch is awful,” laments Gary Neville on Sky.
11 mins: The visitors get a tasty set piece on the left, on the corner of the penalty area. Cresswell, no longer limping, curls it in but only red shirts attack it, for some reason. Goal kick.
9 mins: West Ham are crowding central areas and daring United to break them down (again). They haven’t yet. Cresswell seems to be limping a bit.
6 mins: The home side look up for this. West Ham are fighting to get a foothold in the game.
3 mins: Now Greenwood shoots from the edge of the area, again set up by Fernandes, but he doesn’t get enough power on his shot and Fabianski collects.
2 mins: Save! Fernandes plays a pretty simple pass down the right and Martial runs into the box, is given a bit too much space by Diop and cracks a shot goalwards which Fabianski has to dive to palm away.
1 min: Peeeeeeep! Bruno Fernandes gets the ball rolling.
The players are out and almost ready for action, but will first have a minute’s silence for Alex Dawson, the former United striker, who died this week aged 80.
“Hi Simon,” writes Rob Carey. “Just wondering if anyone wanted to bet on what minute Man Utd will get their penalty tonight? I’ll go for the 36th minute.”
Tough call, this one. Looks like Fernandes is further off the ground and Pogba is closer to the sky.
David Moyes is asked to explain West Ham’s improved recent form. He doesn’t entirely succeed.
Well, there’s never only one thing but we’ve been scoring goals, we’ve been making chances, we’ve defended a little bit better in the last couple of games. But I just think making chances and taking chances when we’ve got them as well.
“Huge game for United tonight because you know qualifying for the Champions League keeps Adidas happy and any prospective new recruits who just have a burning desire to play six games in next years competition,” meows Neil Carter. “Enough cynicism, after the debacle that was the FA Cup Semi three points would be great! Good luck in goal tonight David, no pressure son!”
Eight people photographed standing close together at Old Trafford. The odd thing about this photograph is that I can’t for the life of me work out who is talking/interacting/fist-bumping who.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer makes four changes, bringing in Pogba, Martia, Fosu-Mensah and Greenwood, and leaving out Bailly, Wan-Bissaka, Fred and James. West Ham are unchanged.
The team sheets have been handed in, and this afternoon/evening/morning/whatever’s game will feature this lot:
Manchester United: De Gea, Fosu-Mensah, Lindelof, Maguire, Williams, Pogba, Matic, Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Mata, Lingard, Fred, Dalot, James, Romero, Ighalo, Wan Bissaka, McTominay.
West Ham: Fabianski, Johnson, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Soucek, Rice, Bowen, Noble, Fornals, Antonio. Subs: Balbuena, Yarmolenko, Felipe Anderson, Lanzini, Wilshere, Haller, Masuaku, Randolph, Coventry.
Referee: Paul Tierney.
West Ham are now unofficially safe, though given that Watford and Aston Villa could both catch them on points (their goal differences are inferior by 14 and 13 respectively, so some thrashings would need to be handed out) they will be eager to bank the one point it would take to make it official. Wins tonight and at home to Villa on Sunday would leave them with a sufficiently large final points tally for the whole relegation threat to seem like a grim and distant dream. They might be inspired by these opponents: when the Hammers beat United 2-0 in September they were, with six games played, merrily skimming along in fifth (one place above Bournemouth). Happy memories, but they won only two more games before the end of 2019, losing nine, and by the turn of the year they were 17th (one place below Bournemouth).
It’s got to be said that they probably won’t win, mind. Manchester United are a team transformed over the last few months, and their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea on Sunday is the only reverse in any competition in the last six months – it is their half-year anniversary of their last league defeat, against Burnley at Old Trafford, today. They also have the incentive of knowing that draws in their last two games (they play Leicester, with whom they are currently level-pegging on both points and goal difference, in their last fixture on Sunday) would be enough to secure Champions League football next season, which would be a jolly impressive thing to achieve.
So, in short, we should have two teams in good form trying to win this game of football. Huzzah!
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