Lingard fires Manchester United to win as West Ham sub Noble’s penalty saved
There are few surer things than a penalty from Mark Noble, or so went David Moyes’ logic. When West Ham were awarded a lifeline in added time after a handball from Luke Shaw, the Premier League’s fourth most-successful spot kick taker was summoned from the bench to perform one task, and one task only. Noble jogged on, and ran up; David de Gea parried the penalty to his left and Manchester United could celebrate the most dramatic of away wins.
They had edged ahead through a marvellous strike from Jesse Lingard in the dying minutes, an act that seemed to provide enough narrative thrill given the identity of their opponents. Before that a point apiece seemed fair after goals from Saïd Benrahma and Cristiano Ronaldo cancelled one another out, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team move level with Liverpool on 13 points.
Given the sides’ respective European exertions it was little surprise proceedings took time to warm up. For West Ham, in particular, there was little sense in going hell for leather given the novelty of their Thursday-to-Sunday routine, the first part of which had brought a resounding win in Zagreb. Moyes retained seven of his lineup, just as Solskjær did of the selection that had been stunned against Young Boys two days previously. Beyond an early clip on Paul Pogba from Kurt Zouma, the opening exchanges largely resembled shadow boxing.
Everyone having loosened off, it became the contest advertised. Solskjær had reintroduced Scott McTominay after the midfielder’s recovery from groin surgery, but any suggestion of added stability was soon tested. A 17th minute error from Harry Maguire opened things up: pursued by Jarrod Bowen and Benrahma near the right corner flag, he dithered and gave up possession to the latter. Benrahma could wriggle towards the byline and cut back for Bowen, whose miscued effort struck Raphaël Varane and bounced away.
Not long afterwards Bowen, leading the line in the suspended Michail Antonio’s absence, again failed to make a clean contact after unconvincing defending from Varane and McTominay. De Gea repelled his shot with a foot; West Ham kept coming and Benrahma’s growing influence was signalled with one sumptuous turn in midfield.
At that point the visitors’ threat had been limited to a series of well-defended crosses. When a right-sided corner was not as readily handled, they almost scored. Bruno Fernandes’ half-volley from beyond the far post, was sweet and true; Lukasz Fabianski’s save, just about diverting it onto the upright with a glove, was even better.
That felt like a turning point when, just after the half-hour, the industry of both Benrahma and West Ham was rewarded. The opener was smartly conceived, Bowen running inside Vladimir Coufal and collecting the right-back’s backheel in his stride. Bowen quickly found Benrahma, who had space to shoot 25 yards out, to his left. Although Benrahma aimed for the far corner, his attempt nestled in the opposite side of the net after taking a wicked deflection off Varane’s elbow. De Gea had no hope of intervening.
Now Ronaldo, seemingly affronted, came to life. He was immediately denied by a last-ditch challenge from Zouma but an equaliser arrived quickly. Fernandes’ deep delivery from the left was on point and, running beyond Aaron Cresswell, Ronaldo stabbed towards goal. Fabianski was in the way but the ball ran free and the rebound was gobbled up, surviving a VAR check for offside. All of Ronaldo’s four goals since returning have been scruffy: he will not remotely care.
Ronaldo and the West Ham home debutant, Nikola Vlasic, had half-chances before the break but parity felt right. Within seconds of the restart, though, the home side owed that to Fabianski. A Pablo Fornals error led Fernandes to play Ronaldo through and, with a goal appearing certain, Fabianski did superbly to deflect his effort behind. One evergreen 36-year-old had been denied by another.
Fornals flicked wide at the other end but, as the hour mark passed, the vast majority of the traffic was directed towards Fabianski’s goal. United’s dominance did not yield a flow of chances: while Fernandes and Pogba were constantly involved, the movement in front of them did not always befit their passing ranges. It meant West Ham were, as in the early period of the game, often able to survive by heading away crosses in the manner that created Ronaldo’s goal.
Those extra 48 hours of preparation had begun to look telling, even if much of the excitement had dried up. Moyes introduced Andriy Yarmolenko in an effort to change that; Solskjær went further in deploying Jadon Sancho and Lingard, who was well received at his temporary home of last season. The adulation, from West Ham’s fans at least, would not last long.
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Ronaldo twice sought penalties, once having a clear case when Coufal appeared to clip him with an outstretched leg. But United did not look brimful of ideas until Lingard, jinking inside after taking a pass from Nemanja Matic, cut inside Zouma and speared an exhilarating finish plum into Fabianski’s top left corner. He made a point of not celebrating.
That was agonising enough for Moyes, who would have loved to sign Lingard permanently. But incredibly it had nothing on the drama, and crushing disappointment, that would follow.