MANCHESTER United moved to within four points of claiming their 20th league title after Robin van Persie scored a controversial equaliser to claim a share of the spoils against a battling West Ham United.
Scorers: West Ham - Vaz Te 16, Diame 55; Manchester Utd - Valencia 31, Van Persie 77
Referee: L Probert
The nature of the result was befitting given United’s penchant for having to fight back from losing positions this season. They were sluggish at the start and fell behind to a Ricardo Vaz Te header before Antonio Valencia’s first goal of the season levelled the scores. A great strike from Mohamed Diame saw the Hammers re-establish their lead in the second half.
But United again showed their spirit as Van Persie equalised with 13 minutes remaining, although there will be questions asked as to whether the Dutchman was offside in the build-up.
The salvaged draw means United have claimed 28 points from losing positions in the Premier League this season and leaves West Ham without a league win over them since 2007.
The hosts started the game brightly and, with the visitors toiling, it was Vaz Te who opened the scoring on 17 minutes, but the goal owed much to the driving force of Diame.
The Senegal international picked the ball up in his own half after another United attack broke down and charged over the halfway line before picking out Matt Jarvis on the left flank.
Jarvis skipped past Rio Ferdinand with ease before crossing to the back post, with Carroll knocking the ball down to the onrushing Vaz Te, who headed past David De Gea.
The visitors responded well to falling a goal behind, as they have done on so many occasions this season, and soon started to control the play. Their equaliser came just after the half-hour mark after some fine work by Shinji Kagawa.
The move started with Van Persie drifting out to the left wing and collecting the ball before playing in the Japan international. Kagawa then showed great composure to time his pass across goal to Valencia, who was left with the simple task of tapping home from close range.
Neither side could take the lead before the interval but there were a series of small incidents inside the United penalty area before a West Ham corner on the stroke of half-time.
Wayne Rooney appeared to kick out at Carroll, with referee Lee Probert talking to the England pair, before Carroll incensed United manager Sir Alex Ferguson by crashing into De Gea from the delayed set-piece.
The battle between Carroll and De Gea continued after the break as the Spanish goalkeeper collected a cross despite close attention from the forward, which ultimately saw the Liverpool loanee cautioned. He almost responded with a goal but his scintillating long-range strike hit the side netting of De Gea’s goal.
West Ham’s second goal came soon after as Vaz Te’s clever flick and Guy Demel’s pass into Diame found the midfielder in possession just outside United’s area. Diame turned past Rooney, who offered little resistance, and arrowed a low effort past De Gea.
Rooney came close to drawing the Red Devils level for a second time after latching on to Van Persie’s low corner.
His shot was not dealt with by Jussi Jaaskelainen, who was grateful to Gary O’Neil for being in the right position on the line to hook the ball clear.
Jaaskelainen did not need any help to keep out United’s next effort as he tipped Van Persie’s bullet header behind for a corner as United pressed for a second equaliser. That equaliser duly came 13 minutes from time as Kagawa cut inside before curling an effort that came back off the post and into the path of Van Persie, with the striker finishing clinically. Although he was in an offside position when Kagawa’s original shot was taken.
West Ham’s Matthew Taylor had the best chance to win the game for either side when he latched onto a mistake from Rio Ferdinand in injury time. But he couldn’t keep his calm and hammered the ball high and wide.
West Ham Utd: Jaaskelainen, Demel, Collins, Reid, O’Brien, Diame (Collison 82), Nolan (Taylor 82), O’Neil (Noble 67), Jarvis, Carroll, Vaz Te. Subs not used: Henderson,Carlton Cole,Maiga,Pogatetz.
Manchester Utd: De Gea, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Jones, Kagawa (Hernandez 79), Rooney (Giggs 71), Van Persie. Subs not used: Amos, Evans, Nani, Welbeck, Cleverley.