Monday, March 14

Plucky United take mighty West Ham to replay

Man United 1 West Ham 1 (FA Cup)

“We’ve got Payet!” echoes around Euston as it’s on to an utterly packed 11.20 train to Manchester. Seems like all 9,000 West Ham fans are on this particular train and I have to stand all journey. Next to me are two computer geeks, a Frenchman and American, who don’t really like football but have been offered free corporate prawn sandwiches by the Mancs.

From Manchester Piccadilly it’s on the X50 bus to Old Trafford. Outside the Bishop Blaize pub there’s a flag reading “Chelmsford Reds”  — some of United’s more local fans. Inside the stadium the 9,000 West Ham fans are making a lot of noise and seem to think that we have acquired a Reunion midfielder. I’m with Big Joe’s mate John and his son and the atmosphere is hugely expectant.

West Ham start really confidently, with the excellent Noble again looking worthy of an England call-up. Andy Carroll plays Emineke through and the striker hits it wide when he should surely score. Creswell crosses for Carroll to head powerfully over from a long way out and then another excellent move involving Noble, Payet and Cresswell sees Emenike head Aaron’s cross into De Gea’s arms. Carroll would surely have buried that one. United look stodgy going forward, and their best effort sees Herrera balloon over when well-placed.

West Ham continue to play well in the second half as Reid makes a great block, with United claiming handball (it bounced off his thigh on to this elbow). Payet pokes the ball past the immobile Fellaini and goes down in the box under a challenge from Rojo. It looks a clear penalty, though replays later show that after minimal contact, Payet dived, which I don’t like to see and Dmitri’s surely better than that. It could have been a second yellow too for Payet as he’d been booked in the first half.

The West Ham fans amuse themselves with chants of, “Carlos Tevez - he left ’cos you’re shit!” 

On 68 minutes Payet wins a free-kick some 30 yards from United’s goal. Surely he can’t score from here? Dimitri pings in a sumptuous free kick that goes up and over the wall and into the net off the post, before running to the far corner. Brilliant. On this form he could both defeat Donald Trump and bring peace to Syria. Cue lots of backslapping and we’ve got Payeting in the away end.

It looks like a famous victory, though United improve when the bring on Schweinsteiger. Bilic still goes for the second, bringing on Sakho and Valencia.

It’s never easy at Old Trafford though. Herrera gets in a cross from the right, and Martial gets in at the far post to head in from a narrow angle. The replays show that Schweinsteiger barges Randolph into the net as he goes for the cross and the goal should not have stood

Commendably West Ham still think they can win at at the end, wining a series of corners. Antonio takes the ball from the corner flag and dribbles into the box before sending in a low shot that De Gea pushes wide at full-stretch. Great effort.

“Is there a fire drill?” chant the Irons fans at the Mancs heading for the Lancashire Silverlink.

The whistle blows and although it’s a chance lost it’s a final FA cup game at Upton Park. Still, it’s nice for a small club like United to get the money from a replay.

“We’ll race you back to London!” chant the West Ham fans as the United fans leave. The same chant is heard at the tram station along with “My name is Ludek Miklosko…” and, ”Oh Christian Dailly you are the love of my love!”

There’s time for a pint of Pendle Witches Brew in the Piccadilly pub and some food in Go Falafel (falafel in Manchester?) before arriving at Piccadilly station, where there’s a huge crush as the transport police put everyone in a queue outside the glass doors rather than let them on to the platform. It’s gets angry and nasty as a big crush develops, but after a 40-minute wait and chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing!”, some knocked over barriers and a punch thrown by a policeman we eventually get through to make the 8.20 train.

At least there’s a seat on the way home and a chance to reflect upon a very encouraging performance. Watford, Palace and Everton await the winners of the replay. Is there one more glory night at Upton Park to come?

PLAYER RATINGS: Randolph 7; Antonio 7, Ogbonna 7, Reid 7 (Obiang 6), Cresswell 8; Lanzini 6, Noble 8, Kouyate 7, Payet 8; Emenike 5 (Sakho 5), Carroll 7 (Valencia 5).

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