West Ham United fans would have hoped to see their team gain another positive result at Old Trafford after their cup triumph back in September but unfortunately, a last-ditch goal denied them, as they ended a truncated January fixture programme with a 1-0 defeat against Manchester United on Saturday afternoon.
David Moyes made three changes from the Premier League game against Leeds United last weekend, as Kurt Zouma was back in the starting line-up for the first time since December 4, taking the place of Issa Diop who dropped to the bench, while Tomáš Souček returned after missing the last two matches after contracting Coronavirus, meaning Nikola Vlašić was also amongst the substitutes.
One other change was made as Alphonse Areola was called upon to take the gloves from Łukasz Fabiański, meaning the Frenchman was given his top-flight debut for the East Londoners. The Pole pulled out of the matchday squad with a suspected case of the virus so Darren Randolph was on the bench.
Moyes picked up his first ever win as an opposition manager at this ground when he led the Hammers to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup and he was desperate to try and achieve his first top-flight victory here in fourteen attempts.
Ralf Rangnick’s side had a game in midweek and wanted to build on their success against newly-promoted Brentford three days ago, whereas West Ham were keen to pull further clear of their opponents and stay in fourth place. This meant both teams were giving it a good go in the opening stages but Areola was the first goalkeeper to be tested. Bruno Fernandes picked up possession and played the ball to Mason Greenwood who looked to create pressure but fortunately, Souček saw the danger and prevented him from finding a way through to goal.
If the visitors had won this game, they would have put more distance between them and their opponents but neither side was giving an inch as even efforts from Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio were blocked by Red Devils Captain Harry Maguire.
You could understand why this was a tight contest, given the closeness of the teams in the table with both defences determined not to give anything away but the home side perhaps should have done better when in promising positions. Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t quite direct his header on target, following a cross from Fernandes, while Diogo Dalot also headed wide after he had linked up well with youngster Anthony Elanga.
For the second game in succession, the Hammers were not as bright as their supporters would normally expect them to be but they were obviously keen to hold onto what they had and then see if they could get anything out of the game. Having said that, Antonio’s presence was causing problems as it often does to most teams and he, along with Bowen, was at the heart of most of the promising play that was shown by Moyes’ men. Unfortunately though, it would come to a grinding halt once they got closer to David De Gea’s goal.
The last league success for the Irons here came on the final day of the 2006/7 season and they could have grabbed the advantage going into half-time on this occasion. A great team move involving Antonio, Vladimír Coufal and Pablo Fornals ended when the Spaniard found Manuel Lanzini in space but the move broke down when the Argentine lost possession to Scott McTominay.
When referee Jonathan Moss blew the whistle for the break, the visitors were still in with a chance of bouncing back from last weekend’s defeat, given that the hosts were in indifferent form.
The second-half started with West Ham’s defence still standing firm. Evidence of this was shown when Zouma produced a magnificent block as Ronaldo looked certain to open the scoring but, had the defender not been in position to thwart him, the effort would not have counted anyway, as Alex Telles was in an offside position.
Areola was having a comfortable top-flight debut but was tested when Fred went close, only for the Frenchman to produce a save with the quality to match his effort.
This definitely gave the game a spark and as opposed to the cagey affair that had insued up to this point Czech teammates Souček and Coufal exchanged passes before setting up Fornals who thought he would try luck but was unsuccessful as it was again blocked.
The Spaniard was involved in the next chance too, as a cross fell back into his path from Aaron Cresswell’s corner. Antonio helped the ball on for Bowen. The winger was hoping that his recent goalscoring record would continue but when he released the ball but it only found the side netting rather than beating De Gea.
Rangnick’s side then spurrned another chance when Raphael Varane met a corner from Telles but his header couldn’t beat Areola.
The hosts wasted another opportunity soon after when Elanga picked up the pieces from a great attempt by Fernandes and hit a shot wide under great pressure from Souček.
With seventy minutes on the clock, Moyes made his first and only change of the match with Ryan Fredericks replacing Coufal.
Both teams were again trying to find a breakthrough but as yet, no such opportunity was forthcoming.
West Ham were searching for their first league win since the home victory over newly promoted Norwich City on January 12 and they had a chance to clinch all three points but neither Souček, nor Antonio could turn the ball in past De Gea.
Areola was hoping to keep clean sheet here and he thought he’d done just that when he prevented Ronaldo from getting on the scoresheet.
There was also late drama here, as there was back in Stratford when Mark Noble was brought on to take a last-minute penalty, only to see it saved by De Gea. Deep into stoppage time, substitute Marcus Rashford who had earlier entered the fray for Elanga, found the back of the net to send the East Londoners home with nothing.
Top-flight sides get a break from action next weekend, meaning that West Ham start February with the fourth round FA Cup tie at Kidderminster Harriers but with the closure of the January transfer window next Monday, if any deals are completed both in and out of Stratford, this site will keep its readers up to date.