By Dan Ludlam
It is a measure of how far Manchester United have slipped over the last few seasons that this result in east London came as no great surprise.
Bereft of confidence, lacking creativity, and void of a potent figure up-front, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has an awful lot of work to do to ensure his spell in charge doesn’t spiral out of control.
To add to the Norwegian’s woes, Marcus Rashford limped off with a groin injury, just past the hour mark of another poor United display, leaving them desperately short of forward options.
Andriy Yarmolenko, and a magnificent Aaron Cresswell free-kick, six minutes from time, piled more misery on Solskjaer. United are without an away victory in nine matches in all competitions.
And while a lack of goals is an increasing concern, lapses in defence are adding to Solskjaer’s mounting problems, with United’s last clean sheet away from Old Trafford way back in February.
“The most disappointing thing is the result,” Solskjaer said.
“Of course, when you lose a game you are disappointed. It’s a game that can go both ways, as you would expect away from home in the Premier League.
“It’s just one of these moments. We’ve had, historically, loads of centre-backs over the last few years struggling with injuries. We’ve come down here with a problem with strikers and that’s just how it’s gone. Hopefully, Mason (Greenwood) and Anthony (Martial) will be back for the Arsenal game.”
The growing problems show no sign of easing for the United boss and expectations are at an all-time low. Even before kick-off, their was a sense, amongst supporters, of ‘don’t let us down’, rather than the optimism the great Alex Ferguson used to build his winning sides upon.
Perhaps the most telling sign of United’s slide was the fact that Jesse Lingard was deployed through the middle for the last half-an-hour, despite recent summer transfer windows of huge investment.
So what comes next? Well, if Jose Mourinho’s unceremonious sacking was anything to go by, Solskjaer is on thin ice with the majority of United supporters and a succession of poor results could see him slide towards a similar fate.
Mourinho claimed, on Sky Sports after the game, that United have made no improvement since he left, back in December. On this evidence, it’s hard to argue with him.
“He’s got a right to his opinion,” Solskjaer said. “Of course, we lost here last year; it’s always a difficult ground to go to and we hoped we would do better than we did. We hoped for better, but the key moments they grasped and we didn’t.”
In a real slugfest of a first-half, United were made to pay for lapses in concentration at the back, as Mark Noble and Felipe Anderson picked their way through to set Yarmolenko in the clear. The impressive Ukrainian side-stepped Harry Maguire, before rifling a low drive beyond the despairing dive of David de Gea, on the stroke of half-time.
And by the time Cresswell’s superb free-kick had nestled in the top corner, with just six minutes left, the inquest into another tepid United display had already begun. In a similar vein to last season, United had succumbed to a West Ham side who didn’t need to play particularly well to win.
“We didn’t create enough chances,” Solskjaer added.
The defeat leaves United 10 points adrift of Liverpool at the top of the table. And with Jurgen Klopp’s side and Arsenal as two of United’s next three opponents, Solskjaer faces a crucial period in charge at Old Trafford. The return of Martial and Greenwood will boost United’s attacking options and Solskjaer is keen to remain positive about his side’s chances this season.
‘They are a good group to work with,” he said. “They are determined. Sometimes, along the road, you are going to hit some bumps, as we’ve said; some highs and some lows. This group was out there determined and they showed their desire throughout. It was a good atmosphere in the dressing room and they’ve got the focus right.
“They want to do what we are trying to do. There are key moments in games that can tip these games in our favour, compared to theirs. You can make bad decisions on a pass, but the attitude is there and that’s not the problem. It’s the quality of our decision-making and sometimes in the execution.”
Fabianski 7; Fredricks 8 (Zabaleta 80 6), Diop 8, Ogbonna 7, Cresswell 8; Rice 7, Yarmolenko 8 (Snodgrass 89 5), Noble 8, Fornals 7, Anderson 8 (Wilshere 70 6); Haller 7.
Substitutes: Balbuena, Roberto, Sanchez, Ayew.
De Gea 6; Wan-Bissaka 6, Lindelof 5, Maguire 5, Young 5; Matic 4 (Fred 71 4), McTominay 5, James 6, Mata 4 (Gomes 81 5), Pereira 4, Rashford 4 (Lingard 61 5).
Substitutes: Rojo, Romero, Tuanzebe, Chong.
Referee: Anthony Taylor 7