Anthony Martial came to the rescue of Manchester United and Louis van Gaal as his late equaliser against West Ham took this FA Cup quarter-final to a replay.
The feel-good factor that had temporarily returned to Old Trafford looked set to be well and truly extinguished on Sunday, with Dimitri Payet’s wondrous free-kick leaving the Red Devils facing up to an embarrassing third straight loss.
But just as the atmosphere at Old Trafford was turning nasty, Martial saved the day – and United’s blushes – by turning home from an acute angle to secure a 1-1 draw and another shot at reaching the FA Cup semi-finals.
This, though, was another prosaic display from Van Gaal’s men in which West Ham back-up goalkeeper Darren Randolph did not even have a shot to save in another unimaginative first half.
Emmanuel Emenike twice had efforts at United’s goal during the opening period and Slaven Bilic’s men eventually took the lead in the 68th minute, when Payet – shortly after avoiding a second booking for simulation – curled home an exceptional 25-yard free-kick.
Marouane Fellaini’s substitution was cheered as the mood darkened around Old Trafford, only for Martial to net a late leveller and keep alive United’s hopes of winning the FA Cup for the first time in 12 years.
However, this poor performance, on the back of the embarrassing 2-0 loss at Liverpool in the Europa League last-16, will raise fresh questions about Van Gaal’s future. United were hardly the “wounded animal” Bilic had warned his players about.
Aside from an early Jesse Lingard strike wide, the Hammers dominated much of the play and the returning Andy Carroll and Payet had shots either side of Emenike going close.
The January signing broke behind the United backline to meet a pass from Carroll, with his shot across the face of goal going just wide.
Carroll met a deep Aaron Cresswell cross and put a powerful header over as the east Londoners continued to threaten, before another fine ball from the left-back set up Emenike once again.
Daley Blind lost the loanee as the cross came in, with the defender relieved to see a weak header caught by David de Gea.
Ander Herrera looked to find a breakthrough and Angelo Ogbonna deflected a Marcus Rashford snap shot over as United enjoyed a brief period in the ascendancy, broken up when Fellaini followed Winston Reid into referee Martin Atkinson’s notebook after bringing down Mark Noble moments after the West Ham captain’s foul was ignored.
The frustration of the home crowd was audible and soon focused on United’s aimless attacks, which saw them fail to get a shot on the West Ham goal in the opening period.
Michail Antonio had a shot blocked during a penalty-box melee as half-time approached, with the in-form winger forcing De Gea into a clumsy-looking punch soon after the break.
United had, though, returned with more intensity and had two half-hearted penalty appeals for handball turned down in quick succession, with fans joining in a third shout as Winston Reid blocked a Herrera drive.
West Ham soon had their own penalty appeal rejected as Marcos Rojo lunged at Payet.
The Frenchman was already on a yellow card and perhaps fortunate not to receive a second for simulation – and the opportunity to stay on the field was one upon which he capitalised in style.
Blind was adjudged to have fouled Payet, who got to his feet and curled home the resulting 25-yard free-kick beautifully, in off the left post.
The 9,000 visiting fans erupted as De Gea was beaten, while the home fans’ dissatisfaction was highlighted by them cheering loudly when Fellaini was replaced.
Cresswell made a fine block as United desperately pushed for a leveller, which arrived with seven minutes remaining.
Martial started the move by playing the ball wide and then reacted at the far post to turn home Herrera’s cross – thanks in part to substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger getting in Randolph’s way.
Rojo clipped an effort over and former West Ham midfielder Michael Carrick fizzed just wide for United, but De Gea had to be alert to tip an Antonio strike wide in stoppage time.