Manchester United responded to their midweek Champions League defeat by Paris St-Germain by staging another Premier League fightback to beat West Ham United and climb to fourth in the table.
Goals from Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood and substitute Marcus Rashford turned things around for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who have fallen behind in all five away games this term but have won every match as part of a club-record nine successive away league victories.
With London placed in Tier 2 following the end of the national lockdown on 2 December, the Hammers became the first side to welcome back fans in the Premier League after a nine-month absence.
David Moyes’ side made by far the better start and were rewarded for their first-half superiority when the unmarked Tomas Soucek headed in from a corner after 38 minutes.
They should have added more before the interval but Pablo Fornals hit the post and Sebastien Haller slipped at the crucial moment after rounding goalkeeper Dean Henderson – who was making his first Premier League start for the visitors.
After being omitted from the starting line-up with a crucial Champions League meeting with RB Leipzig looming on Tuesday, the introduction of Bruno Fernandes and Rashford coincided with a much-improved second-half display from Solskjaer’s side.
Pogba’s excellent finish from outside the box eventually stood following a VAR review to check whether Henderson’s long clearance to Rashford had curled out of play and then back in.
Rashford’s cool finish after Greenwood had slotted in from Alex Telles’ cross made it three goals in 13 minutes as United moved two points behind leaders Tottenham.
Another tale of two halves for United
Playing poorly and going behind but again finding a way to win on the road was nothing new for Manchester United under Solskjaer.
With his side’s Champions League fate set to be decided in the midweek trip to Leipzig – where a point is required to reach the last 16 – Solskjaer’s decision to leave Fernandes and Rashford on the bench initially backfired.
Henderson, Pogba, Donny van de Beek and Greenwood all started as the four changes to side from the 3-1 defeat by PSG, yet despite their fresh legs United made a lacklustre start.
They were fortunate not to find themselves more than 1-0 behind at the interval, Henderson doing well to smother Fornals’ close-range shot inside the opening two minutes and Aaron Wan Bissaka recovering brilliantly to stop Jarrod Bowen on the counter attack.
It will all have felt so familiar to Solskjaer, whose side have now won a league-high 15 points from losing positions this season.
Rashford and Fernandes made a marked difference to United’s attacking play and overall confidence after half-time, but it was the much-maligned Pogba whose wonderful first-time strike into the top corner restored parity.
United dominated from that moment, Greenwood scoring for the first time in eight league games after a brilliant touch and finish while Rashford eventually got the goal his impact deserved after earlier hitting the post.
A fourth straight league victory does not tell the full story for an inconsistent United side, but Solskjaer will just be grateful for the much-needed boost before a crucial week that also includes a Manchester derby next Saturday.
“You have a duty to be ready whenever you are called upon. Bruno [Fernandes] and Marcus [Rashford] came on and did well,” Solskjaer told BBC Sport.
“The goals were exceptional. [Greenwood] is a great finisher. We are just waiting for his season to get started but he is getting fitter. The first goal was top quality from Paul Pogba. I am so happy for him.
“We got away with a poor performance. Away from home we have the character and belief. To [come from behind and win] five times on the bounce is exceptional.”
Hammers aggrieved by VAR verdict
Moyes was furious that Pogba’s equaliser was allowed to stand, as Henderson’s curled clearance down the right allowed Rashford to pick out the France midfielder.
The video assistant referee reviewed whether the ball had gone out of play but replays were inconclusive and the goal stood.
“The decision went against us and it seemed to floor us. The ball was over my head. I had the best view because I was right on the touchline,” said Moyes.
“It was definitely over the line – you only need to look at the reaction of the players – they knew it went out as well. It changed the game.”
The former Manchester United manager will also surely lament the fact his side could have established a much greater advantage as they dominated the first half.
With three shots each, both Fornals and Bowen registered more attempts than Manchester United’s players combined in that period, but only Soucek’s goal from Declan Rice’s glanced header separated the sides.
Bowen was the hosts’ standout performer as he frequently beat his marker and the former Hull winger had a goal disallowed for offside then narrowly missed from Vladimir Coufal’s low cross shortly after the restart.
Fornals hit the post while Haller lost his footing with the goal gaping after rounding Henderson as the Hammers failed to take the chances that could have made the game safe before the break.
That would have been well received by the returning home fans, who were back for the first time since 29 February, when a first league win in two months – preceded by protests against the club’s board – hauled Moyes’ struggling side out of the relegation places.
Their side is undoubtedly in better shape now despite this defeat, with West Ham sitting seventh in the table after an opening schedule that has included games against all but Chelsea of last season’s top eight.
On the return of supporters, Moyes added: “I was pleased we had 2,000 fans in but I would like it to have been many more. I hope the West Ham supporters enjoyed it. We played very well but the bit we just missed out on was maybe not managing the game well enough and getting the second goal.”
Premier League comeback kings – the stats
- Manchester United have now won more points from losing positions than any other team in Premier League history (385).
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have won their first five away games in a league campaign for the first time since 1985-86.
- They are only the second side in Premier League history to score two or more goals in nine consecutive away games, after Leeds United in April 2001.
- All three of Manchester United’s substitutes – Rashford, Fernandes and Mata – were directly involved in a goal. It is just the second time that has happened for them in a Premier League game.
- West Ham have dropped more points from winning positions in 2020 than any other team in the Premier League (19). Manchester United have won the most points (22) in this period.
- This was the fourth time West Ham have faced Manchester United in a Premier League game while being above them in the table, but they have failed to win any of those games.
- Since his debut in February, Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in 36 goals in 38 games in all competitions for Manchester United (22 goals, 14 assists).
- His team-mate Mason Greenwood has scored 20 goals in all competitions since the start of last season, twice as many as any other Premier League teenager.