Manchester United have seen two league titles slip from their grasp at Upton Park and they can now add blowing Champions League qualification to their West Ham tale of woe after throwing away a 2-1 lead to gift the home crowd the dream finale at the stadium’s last-ever game.
Leading 2-1 with less than 15 minutes to play following two Anthony Martial goals – the second was a stunner – United then capitulated, conceding two soft headers to Michael Antonio and Winston Reid to miss the chance to dislodge Manchester City in fourth and go into the final day of the season in pole position for the final Champions League berth.
United must now hope that City lose at Swansea this Sunday, and that they defeat Bournemouth at Old Trafford, for a last-gasp ascent into the top four.
This was never going to be an ordinary game, with the lights going out on Upton Park for the final time, but the visit of United to this corner of the East End has always carried more spice than most fixtures for West Ham.
And United have found it to be a graveyard for their ambitions more than once, with Sir Alex Ferguson decrying the ‘obscene’ effort of an already-relegated West Ham back in 1992 when Kenny Brown’s goal sealed a 1-0 home win and all but ended the visitors’ title hopes.
Three years later, United infamously missed a catalogue of chances on the final day of the 1994-95 season at Upton Park, emerging with a 1-1 draw when a victory would have denied Blackburn Rovers the championship.
So with United needing a victory again to leapfrog City and climb into the top four, Van Gaal’s would have approached this game with apprehension due to history and the ability of Slaven Bilic’s team to beat anybody on their day.
But with emotions running high with Upton Park closing its doors after 112 years, United’s players also had to overcome the trauma of their team bus being attacked on the approach to the stadium ahead of the game.
Five windows were smashes, with glass showering the players, prompting the idiotic response by West ham co-chairman David Sullivan, suggesting that United ‘should have got here at 4pm, and that ‘if you check the coach, there won’t be any damage to it.’
Sullivan may have turned a blind eye to the thuggery of a section of his club’s supporters, but video footage offered clear evidence of the attack. If this is the Upton Park experience, then it should be goodbye and good riddance.
But with the game eventually kicking off at 8.30pm following a 45-minute delay, United endured another ambush, this time on the pitch, with West Ham starting in a frenzy of noise.
Bilic’s team went for United from the off and they were ahead on ten minutes when Diafra Sakho’s left foot strike from Manuel Lanzini’s cross deflected off the shin of Daley Blind to beat goalkeeper David de Gea. United were shellshocked and could have been further behind by the break , missing the calm assurance.
United could not afford to play their usual patient game with a victory crucial for their top four aspirations and Van Gaal replaced the ineffective Morgan Schneiderlin with Michael Carrick at the interval.
And the change was rewarded six minutes into the second-half when Martial levelled for United after a Marcus Rashford inspired counter attack left West Ham exposed.
Martial scored his second on 72 minutes danced into the penalty area before beating goalkeeper Darren Randolph from a tight angle.
Game over? United may have thought so, but West Ham drove forward, with Antonio equalising with a header from Payet’s 76th minute free-kick. And the killer blow for United – and perfect ending for Upton Park – came when Reid headed Payet’s cross past De Gea five minutes later.
WEST HAM: Randolph, Antonio, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell, Lanzini (Obiang 84), Kouyaté, Noble, Payet (E Valencia 90), Sakho (Tomkins 85), Carroll.
Goals: Sakho 10, Antonio 76, Reid 80
Subs not used: Collins, Moses, Emenike, Spiegel.
MAN UTD: De Gea, A Valencia (Januzaj 87), Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin (Carrick 45), Mata, Herrera (Lingard 83), Rooney, Martial, Rashford.
Goals: Martial 51, 72
Subs not used: Jones, Depay, Romero, Borthwick-Jackson.
Man of the match: Payet
Match rating: 7/10 Referee: Mike Dean
Source: Belfast Telegraph.