Van Persie denies again as Hammers shine

Posted by Peter Thorne

West Ham twice led in this pulsating match under the Upton Park floodlights but had to be content with a point when Robin van Persie -- as he had done in the FA Cup back in January -- struck an equaliser to make it 2-2 Wednesday.

Manchester United, as you might expect from a team leading the table by 15 points before the start of play, showed plenty of reasons why they have looked like Champions for most of the season, but it was West Ham who delighted in this game, matching the visitors' enterprising play, looking dangerous up front, resolute in defence and refusing to yield all evening, battling for every ball in an eye-catching performance.

-Controversial van Persie goal ties it
-Okwonga: Kagawa the rescuer

In fact, if the linesman had spotted that van Persie was offside when he stole in at the back post to slam home after Shinji Kagawa's shot had struck both posts before falling loose, the Hammers might have been celebrating a famous victory. Unfortunately, the Irons' defence looked equally bemused as barely anyone remonstrated with referee or linesman, even though the call should have been fairly routine.

With the crowd in excellent voice, it was West Ham who started brightly, taking the game to the visitors in the early stages. It was no surprise when they went ahead in the 16th minute. Ironically, the goal could have 'Made in Manchester' stamped all over it.

Mo Diame broke up a Manchester attack and counter-attacked at pace, his ball out to Matt Jarvis saw the winger tease Rio Ferdinand before leaving the former Hammers defender floundering, the superb cross finding the unmarked Andy Carroll who simply headed down for Ricardo vaz Te to nod over the line.

Inevitably, the goal woke United up and they started to threaten more, but their possession didn't come to too much barring a loose Wayne Rooney shot and a few blocked attempts. As so often happens though, just as West Ham thought they had the measure of the men in white, they found themselves pegged back.

It was just on the half-hour when van Persie's pass to Kagawa was superbly controlled by the Japanese international, the midfielder beating James Collins -- not something many people can say lately -- before laying across a tantalising ball that Antonio Valencia merely had to poke over the line with three Hammers defenders blind-sided.

The game ebbed and flowed up to half-time but the main talking point was West Ham's obvious desire to rattle David De Gea in the Manchester goal. Winning a corner just on the stroke of half-time, play was held for a couple of minutes as the players jostled, poked and nudged one another as claret and blue shirts swarmed around the yellow jersey of De Gea and the referee tried to restore some sanity.

As the corner came across and bodies flew, Carroll launched himself like an exocet missile and nearly took De Gea into the back of the net. Sir Alex inevitably complained to the third referee and anyone else who would listen, but it was exciting stuff for the home crowd to see the Hammers putting themselves about and refusing to lie down.

The second period simply took up where the first finished, West Ham breaking up play, finding Carroll who was giving the defence a torrid time and looking to break on the wings principally with the excellent Jarvis. Manchester United on the other hand looked dangerous whenever van Persie was on the ball, the former Arsenal man nodding back from a lofted Rooney pass just after the restart, only to see his excellent header just elude Phil Jones as he closed in on goal.

Carroll was booked on 50 minutes, ironically for the one foul on De Gea he couldn't possibly do anything about -- the big striker unable to get away as the Spanish keeper held onto the ball with his arms 'round the Liverpool loanee, but it didn't stop the forward from continuing to prove himself a nuisance, striking a superb shot from distance that just drifted wide of the left-hand post.

On 54 minutes though, West Ham went ahead again, this time it was superb work by Diame who picked up a ball by Guy Demel, before running along outside the penalty box, turning Rooney and curling a long shot into the corner. It was an excellent strike and it raised the roof as Hammers fans celebrated.

Inevitably, the champions-elect came again, Rooney seeing his shot cleared off the line by O'Neill after Jussi Jaaskelainen had taken the sting from the jabbed strike but been unable to stop it squirming from his grasp. Jaaskelainen then made a superb stop from a van Persie volley that, ultimately, was ruled offside.

Sam Allardyce then attempted to strengthen his midfield, replacing the hard-working Gary O'Neil with Mark Noble while Sir Alex replaced the ineffective Rooney with Ryan Giggs on 70 minutes.

Giggs has often proved a problem for West Ham, but at least, the player wasn't involved in the equaliser just six minutes later, the goal being purely down to Kagawa and a linesman failing to look down his line.

In January, van Persie's equaliser came too late to do anything but break the hearts of the Hammers supporters. This time though, there was plenty of time for West Ham to defend as United, sensing an opportunity, tried to break down the defence. They had chances but none too clear as Joey O'Brien, Winston Reid, James Collins and, much to his credit, Carroll put in some superb blocks -- and, in the case of Carroll, an immaculate tackle on Javier Hernandez just as the substitute was about to strike home.

In fact, it was probably West Ham who had the best opportunity as substitute Matthew Taylor -- on for Kevin Nolan -- took advantage of a Ferdinand mistake and bore down on goal. Sadly, Taylor seemed blinded by the possible headlines on the back pages, blazing way over the bar without even troubling the keeper; a sad waste of a good opportunity.

Probably a draw was a fair result in the end, but there is no doubt West Ham took the game to Manchester United and, with more luck and a little more control, could have come away with all three points against a side not quite looking at their very best.

However, much of the credit for that should go to the Hammers midfield and defence, who fought for every ball and refused to concede an inch of territory.

Their third consecutive draw, another point and only a win from the magic 42 mark, this was a game that will delight Allardyce and, just perhaps, show some there is a little bit more to this side than some like to think.

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