Manchester United twice came from behind to salvage a point with a 2-2 draw against West Ham United at Upton Park.
In keeping with their recent form, it was another stuttering performance from United, while West Ham played with fervent motivation as they looked to grab a win at the fourth time of asking against their opponents this season as well as ending any remaining doubts about relegation trouble.
Ricardo Vaz Te headed the hosts in front early before Antonio Valencia equalized before the break. It was a similar pattern in the second half as West Ham again started strong and went back in front through a fine strike from Mohamed Diame. But United dragged themselves level, although Robin van Persie’s equalizer from close-range should have been chalked off for offside.
United pushed hard for a winner in the closing stages but they had to settle for a point that leaves them 13 points clear of Manchester City atop the Premier League, with their rivals having a game in hand.
In front of an energized Upton Park crowd, West Ham had begun in the ascendency as Andy Carroll put a shot wide and James Collins looped a header over the bar.
With just 16 minutes on the clock, their early endeavors were rewarded on the score sheet.
The home side broke from the edge of their own box and the impressive Matt Jarvis easily beat Rio Ferdinand down the left before standing up a cross to the back post and Carroll comfortably got ahead of Evra to nod the ball back across goal where Vaz Te met it with a diving header past De Gea.
As they have done ever since exiting the Champions League over a month ago, United continued to look sluggish and with their passing lacking crispness and often accuracy.
Then, just past the half-hour mark, the visitors suddenly sprung into life and got level. Shinji Kagawa was the architect as he took a pass from Van Persie down the left of the box and glided serenely past a defender before laying it across goal and taking out goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen for Valencia to tap in.
United were continuing to dominate possession with West Ham often taking the aerial route and trying to feed off Carroll up front.
But there was still no consistent threat from United and, indeed Diame gave a warning of his ability with a fierce shot into the side netting.
The first half ended heatedly when Carroll knocked De Gea to the ground with a late challenge, which angered Sir Alex Ferguson on the touchline when the referee took no action. The powerful center forward would be booked after the break for another challenge on De Gea as West Ham looked to unsettle the Spaniard.
By that point, United probably should have been in front. With one of his few positive contributions on the night before being taken off, Rooney picked out Van Persie perfectly at the back post, but, looking to put it back across goal, he directed his header behind Phil Jones and the chance went begging.
It had been a good start again to the half from West Ham, though, and Carroll had his manager off his seat with a long-range volley that went just wide.
With 10 minutes gone in the period Sam Allardyce was able to celebrate. Diame provided another example of the ability that has seen him linked with many of England’s top clubs when he turned away from Rooney on the right of the box before whipping a low left-footed shot into the far corner from 20 yards.
The goal sparked United into greater endeavor and they soon began threatening the opposition goal on a regular basis.
Rooney’s scuffed effort from a well-worked corner required Gary O’Neil to hack the ball off the line after Jaaskelainen let the ball squirm through his grasp. The West Ham keeper was more secure moments later when he tipped a header from Van Persie over the bar.
United were still not playing fluidly, but with 14 minutes remaining they grabbed an equalizer in controversial circumstances. As with their first goal, Kagawa was again heavily involved, this time using his footwork to create space for a shot on the edge of the box. The effort took a slight deflection off Collins and struck one post then bounced across the line and hit the other before Van Persie side-footed the ball into the roof of the net. Replays, though, confirmed that the Dutchman was offside and his second goal in two games should not have been given.
The momentum was now all with the visiting side and, with one of his first contributions, substitute Javier Hernandez swiveled well for a header that Jaaskelainen saved comfortably.
As the match entered stoppage time, it took a fine piece of defending from a West Ham striker to ensure the scores finished level. Hernandez looked poise to tuck in Ryan Giggs’s excellent cross, but Carroll came out of nowhere to make a superb challenge and take the ball away from the Mexican.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.