Having been handed teh chance to move ahead of Manchester City following their neighbours’s failure to beat Arsenal on Sunday, Van Gaal’s team recovered after falling behind to Diafra Sakho’s opening goal with Anthony Martial’s two goals, only to pay the price for woeful defending that allowed Michail Antonio and Winston Reid to ensure West Ham signed off from Upton Park having strengthened their bid to claim a place in the Europa League.
The Hammers’ intention had been to stage a memorable farewell to their home of 112 years ahead of next season’s move to the Olympic stadium but events before kick-off drew attention for all the wrong reasons. The visitors coach arrived, in the words of Wayne Rooney, “smashed up” and with broken windows while police horses were used to clear the congested areas around the ground.
Van Gaal suggested his side had been left with “a lot of emotion” and the manager’s claim appeared well-founded during the first half. The tension outside the ground had been replaced by a sense of celebration inside the stadium before kick-off and the atmosphere appeared to inspire Bilic’s players to live up to the occasion.
By contrast, the visitors, unsurprisingly, looked sluggish, as they were out-hustled by their fired-up hosts. West Ham were by far the more positive side, reacting first in all areas of the pitch and deservedly taking the lead in the 10th minute when Aaron Cresswell released Manuel Lanzini on the left. The Argentine pulled the ball back from the byline towards Sakho whose first time shot flew beyond David De Gea and inside the keeper’s right-hand post.
Van Gaal’s side were in disarray, and never more so than when Daley Blind inexplicably lost his bearings and found himself 10 yards deeper than his fellow defenders, allowing Andy Carroll to run clear on De Gea’s from the centre circle. It was the perfect opportunity for the forward to watch Roy Hodgson, the England manager looking on from the directors’ box, but Carroll wasted the chance by firing too close to De Gea who saved well with his legs.
Carroll’s wastefulness was catching. Slaven Bilic could not hide his disgust as Dimitri Payet wasted two good shooting opportunities while Carroll was guilty of another miss, adding to the sense that West Ham should really have established a more commanding advantage at the break.
For their part, Van Gaal’s side failed to muster a single effort on goal before the break and the manager’s dissatisfaction was evident in his decision to replace the anonymous Morgan Schneiderlin with Michael Carrick at half-time.
Carrick’s omission from the starting line-up to face his former club on what was inevitably going to be a highly-charged evening appeared questionable given the calm authority he is capable of bringing to the side. And the transformation in the visitors’s approach was immediately apparent with Van Gaal’s side demonstrating more attacking intent in the opening five minutes than they did in the entire first half before levelling through Martial.
The move that brought about the goal could hardly have been more straight-forward. A long goal-kick from De Gea was collected by Marcus Rashford who spotted Juan Mata’s overlap, allowing the Spaniard to drill a low cross towards the far post where Martial turned home from close range.
The visitors’ relief was apparent and De Gea’s reaction towards the home supporters who had taunted him by refusing to return the ball immediately before the goal suggested Van Gaal’s side felt they had a score to settle.
And they took the lead, in the 72nd minute, as Martial added his second after a break led by Rooney and continued by Rashford before Martial out-paced Reid and beat Ireland keeper Darren Randolph at the near post.
Yet while the visitors had showed more attacking intent at the start of the second period, they also demonstrated they had not shed the defensive frailties that had made them appear so vulnerable during the first half.
Carroll continued to prove too much for Blind and Chris Smalling to cope with while Payet was left frustrated after curling a shot into the side netting from the edge of the area. It was Sakho, though, who had more cause to hold his head in disappointment after squandering a superb chance to head his side ahead from Payet’s 56th minute free-kick after the visitors’ offside trap again proved to be hopelessly ineffective.
But Blind’s’ inability to hold a defensive line again proved costly when he allowed Antionio to head West Ham level in the 76th minute and the centre-0back was again beaten when Reid headed the winner five minutes later.
Randolph 7; Antonio 7, Reid 6, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 7; Lanzini 7 (Obiang 83,6), Kouyate 8, Noble 8, Payet 9 (Valencia 90); Sakho 7 (Tomkins 84,6), Carroll 7.
Tomkins, Collins, Moses, Emenike, Spiegel.
De Gea 7; Valencia 7, Smalling 5, Blind 3, Rojo 6; Schneiderlin 4 (Carrick 46,6), Ander Herrera 5 (Lingard 83); Mata 5, Rooney 6, Martial 7; Rashford 5.
Jones, Depay, Januzaj, Romero, Borthwick-Jackson.
Mike Dean (Wirral)